Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar believes Trinidad and Tobago must use its position in the UN to call for an end to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
In a release on February 5, Persad-Bissessar condemned the October 7 Hamas-led attack that killed around 1,200 Israeli citizens, saying there is no defence or excuse for it.
But she pointed out the mounting scale of the destruction being dealt out in Gaza by Israel's response and described the subsequent killing of civilians who were never involved in the attack as an atrocity.
"The Palestinian death toll from the ongoing Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip has risen to 27,365 deaths, while 66,630 others were wounded, as of February 4th 2024. It is estimated that 70 per cent of these deaths were women and children. The Israeli military action has left 85 per cent of Gaza’s population internally displaced with shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of Gaza’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed.
"The massive death toll and extensive destruction of infrastructure, including hospitals, houses, schools, along with crops, electricity and water supplies, are unacceptable and must be protested by every democratic society."
She said TT's government must use the country's current presidency of the UN General Assembly to inspire discussions to end the genocide of residents of Gaza.
"The bombardment and siege of Gaza are grossly unacceptable to all of humanity, and TT has an important responsibility to be proactive and vigilant. Even though TT is a small island state, a resolute approach in collaboration with international partners and Mr Francis’ leadership at the UN could stir further international action and possibly result in an end to the military activity.
An experienced diplomat, TT's Dennis Francis, was elected president of the 78th UN General Assembly on June 1. His tenure runs from September 2023-September 2024.
"The egregious breach of humanitarian laws and slaughter of innocent lives must be stopped. We must do our best to assist in bringing an end to the catastrophe and the unbearable pain and trauma. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve the right to live and thrive in peace in their own states, there are no winners in this regrettable conflict."
Two days after this conflict began in the region, Caricom issued a statement calling for an end to the violence. "Caricom thus joins the responsible members of the international community in calling for an immediate ceasefire and end of hostilities by all parties," it said.
It also stood by UN Security Council Resolution 242 and ongoing efforts towards a two-state solution as the best option to achieve peace and security in the region. Resolution 242, according to online search site Wikipedia, calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 conflict, without specifying the extent of the withdrawal.
The resolution, therefore, neither commands nor prohibits total withdrawal. Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council on November 22, 1967, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.
The statement, however, was not received well by the Israeli ambassador to TT, Itai Bar-Dov, who voiced his disapproval in an interview with WESN's Ketan Singh. "We cannot (accept) this comparison of both sides. Would Caricom allow any Caribbean nation to be threatened by such an entity which any minute can come and slaughter hundreds of thousands of its population? How can you speak about 'both sides'?
"We are a democratic state. We are for peace, we gave up vast pieces of land (to other Middle Eastern states) for the sake of peace.
"This comparison of the two sides has to end. It has to end. There is no comparison between a democratic peace-loving, sovereign state and a terrorist organisation, whether it is ISIS or Hamas. That comparison is just ludicrous and that statement (by Caricom) was very disappointing."
In November, Independent Senator Anthony Vieira expressed similar sentiments to Persad-Bissessar, voicing concerns over what he believed to be Israel's excessive force in defending itself after Hamas's attack.
In response, Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne said the government condemned the mass killings on both sides of the conflict.
He also agreed with Vieira's position that the UN needed to play a key role in finding a solution. Newsday tried to contact Browne for comment on the opposition leader's statement and is awaiting a response.