China has deployed six warships to the Middle East as the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates, according to reports.
The 44th Naval Escort Task Force from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theatre has been involved in routine operations in the region and spent several days in Oman last week.
The Chinese warships left Muscat for an unspecified location on Saturday after participating in an exercise with the Omani navy.
The task force includes the Zibo, a guided missile destroyer, the frigate Jingzhou, and the supply ship Qiandaohu – all of which will be stationed in the Middle East as Israel prepares for a ground invasion of Gaza.
During the visit to Oman, Chinese commanders met with Omani military officials and visited military institutions, while sailors from both countries toured shops and even organized a basketball game, according to a state news agency.
Since arriving in the Gulf of Aden north of Somalia six months ago, the PLA task force has been involved in escort missions for shipping.
However, it handed over its mission to the 45th task force – from the PLA’s Northern Theatre command – earlier this month.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping said on Thursday that a two-state solution to establish an independent Palestine is the “fundamental way out” of the Israel-Hamas war.
According to China’s state broadcaster CCTV, Xi said, “The top priority now is a ceasefire as soon as possible, to avoid the conflict from expanding or even spiraling out of control and causing a serious humanitarian crisis.”
China’s deployment comes after the US sent a powerful arsenal to the Middle East earlier this week.
The US sent two aircraft carriers – including the USS Gerald R. Ford and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower – to the eastern Mediterranean along with planes that could carry out airstrikes.
Even more planes have been dispatched to US military bases in the region, including F-15 and F-16 fighter jet squadrons.
The increased military presence in the Middle East reflects concern in Washington that rising tensions in Israel could become an all-out war.
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