A Palestinian envoy arrived Thursday in China's capital to discuss the Palestinians' conflict with Israel and their bid to upgrade their status at the U.N., in the latest sign of Beijing's growing influence in the Middle East.
Bassam al-Salhi's arrival came hours after a cease-fire in the fiercest fighting in years between Israel and Hamas militants. Eight days of airstrikes and artillery attacks by Israel and rocket attacks by Palestinian militants had killed 161 Palestinians and five Israelis.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants China's help in pressing for an upgrade in the Palestinians' U.N. status from permanent observer to nonmember observer, which could boost their chances of joining additional U.N. bodies such as the International Criminal Court, where they could attempt to prosecute Israel.
Israel and the U.S. oppose the move, saying Palestinians should negotiate their statehood via peace talks and not conduct unilateral moves.
"We are aware that the United States will press relevant sides not to issue the resolution, but we count on China for its weight that is parallel to that of the America," al-Salhi told China's state Xinhua News Agency ahead of his three-day trip. Al-Salhi was to meet with China's foreign minister on Friday.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China supported the establishment of an independent and sovereign state of Palestine.
"China understands, respects and supports Palestine's decision" to seek nonmember observer status at the U.N., Hua said.
China has increasingly played a more active diplomatic role in the Middle East. It recently announced its own four-point plan for a political solution to the Syrian conflict, although observers said it was vague and did not significantly add to past peace plans that have failed.
The Egyptian-sponsored cease-fire that took effect Wednesday night in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict promises to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel and ease border closings that have stifled Gaza's economy. But vague language in the agreement and deep hostility between the combatants make it far from certain that the bloodshed will end.