[WATCH] Bartolo: Middle East flare-up worse than ever as neighbours turn on each other

Xtra on TVM | Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo and Opposition spokesperson Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici converge on the Israeli-Palestine conflict

Evarist Bartolo on Xtra
Evarist Bartolo on Xtra

Malta’s foreign minister Evarist Bartolo said he has been in contact with counterparts on a bid by Egypt, Tunisia and Qatar to ease the Middle Eastern flare-up in Palestine.

Bartolo said that the current situation was now worse than what it was in recent years, after Israeli forces bombarded swathes of the Gaza Strip in retaliation at rockets fired by Hamas militias.

At least 87 people have been killed in Gaza, including 18 children, over the past four days, Palestinian medical officials said. Hospitals already under heavy pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic have faced further strain. Seven people have been killed in Israel: a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, five Israeli civilians, including two children, and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.

Speaking on TVM’s Xtra, Bartolo expressed his worry at the way Israeli and Palestinian families were turning against each other in localities where they would normally live peacefully side-by-side.

“Families living in localities in Israel are going against each other. I’ve been informed that they haven’t left their house in three days, in places where before these people would live together. Today, they would have been celebrating Eid and inviting their neighbours in. The fact that this is happening is scary, it’s a new development,” he said.

“The current situation isn’t a matter of ‘oh, we’re back at it again’ - it’s an even worse situation.”

Bartolo said the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia were making their appeals to Israel to de-escalate the situation with their defence forces. But the Maltese foreign minister said Hamas too had to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Shadow foreign minister Care Mifsud Bonnici said the current conflict was the result of a lack of dialogue. “What Hamas is doing is worrying us, but what Israel is doing worries us as well,” he said. “With conflict we won’t reach a solution.”

Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici on Xtra
Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici on Xtra

He reiterated the PN’s stance in favour of a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a joint capital. But Mifsud Bonnici added that there was an element of political convenience to the conflict, with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly wanting to stay in power.

“He brought this situation in order to stay in power, things escalated more than they needed to,” he said.

Mifsud Bonnici also criticised US President Joe Biden’s strategic handling of the situation, saying that he made a mistake in not making the Israel-Palestine conflict a priority. Bartolo agreed, and admitted that the EU also made this mistake in not keeping the Middle Eastern conflict a priority item in its foreign agenda.