Headlines

Jihadists the last thing
Gaza needs: Minister

The government maintained Tuesday its stance of refusing to send Indonesian troops to the Gaza Strip despite mounting pressure from some Islamic groups to dispatch jihadists to the besieged Middle Eastern spot.

The Foreign Ministry said sending jihadists to Gaza to help Hamas fight Israel would not improve the situation, adding there were much more effective avenues Indonesia could take to help diffuse the situation.

A number of Islamic hardline groups, including the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), have said they wish to send volunteers to Gaza under the banner of jihad and have called on the government to support them.

“Is conducting a jihad effective? We must ask Gaza if that’s what they need, and most probably they (don’t). There are other more effective ways to help ... So far, sending jihadists isn’t an option,” Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said.

AFP reported Tuesday that the 11-day-old Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip had claimed the lives of at least 635 Palestinians and wounded 2,900 more.

The toll shot up Tuesday when Israeli fire hit three schools, killing at least 45 people.

Speaking in his annual statement to the press, Hassan said what Gaza needed most was medicine and medical assistance.

“We are looking at the possibility of sending medical workers to field hospitals in the Egypt area of Sinai, which borders with Gaza. We’re awaiting clearance from Egypt, and the President has instructed the health minister to collect volunteers,” Hassan said.

Despite agreeing that the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip had nothing to do with religion, Islamic groups in Jakarta have hyped up the conflict between the two religious groups, paving the way for the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and other Islamic groups to seize the momentum ahead of the April elections.

Observers on Tuesday criticized nationalist parties for not shouting down calls by Islam groups to send volunteers to the war, which was defined by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday as a clash over the sovereignty of territory between Palestine and Israel, and not a religious matter.

“The nationalist groups should be more active in voicing their stance as Indonesia’s voice will be much more strong if the (the world) considers it to represent a pluralist Indonesia rather than only Islam,” University of Indonesia international relations expert Hariyadi Wirawan said.

He said a pluralist Indonesia would attract more sympathy from major non-Muslim countries, such as members of the European Union (EU), as well as powerful human rights groups world wide that see the attacks as a territory dispute and a human rights tragedy rather than an attack against Islam.

PKS, the FPI and HTI seized the spotlight immediately after Israeli began the attacks when the groups gathered thousands of supporters in Jakarta and other big cities in the country to rally against Israel and the US.

Other political parties and nationalist groups did not take part in the rallies, and media coverage has refused to voice their stance on the conflict.

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