Gaza war looms over COP28 climate talks in UAE
More than seven weeks into the deadly war, the COP28 talks opened with a moment's silence announced by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the COP27 president, for "all civilians who have perished during the current conflict in Gaza".
The conflict also dominated the activist agenda, with chanting, keffiyeh-wearing climate justice defenders urging a ceasefire and an end to Israel's 17-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.
"We are here to express our solidarity with the Palestinians and call for a permanent ceasefire," Lidy Nacpil, representing a coalition of 350 climate justice organisations, told a press conference on the sidelines of the COP gathering.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, plans to use his COP28 visit for a diplomatic push to release hostages held by Hamas, according to his office.
"In my meetings with world leaders I intend to raise the firm demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza," Herzog said on social media platform X after arriving in the UAE.
He said he met with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on the summit's sidelines "as part of Israel's ongoing efforts to see the release and return home of the hostages".
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also expected to be at COP28 and will be in the same room as Herzog on Friday, as they are scheduled to give speeches just minutes apart.
Some activists at the press conference chanted "Free Palestine" and other slogans.
"It's our duty as protectors of motherland and the mother Earth, and also protectors of humans, to speak up publicly and demand a ceasefire and the end of the occupation," said Rania Harrara of the MENA Feminist Taskforce.
Dozens of people also attended a separate gathering calling for an end to the war.
"We see the same rich countries who say there is no money to help pay for the damage they caused to the climate, say they have no problem paying for bombs raining on innocent people," said Asad Rehman, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition.
The activists at COP28 included Tariq Luthun from Gaza, who is a member of the Climate Action Network.
The 32-year-old based in the United States said the vast majority of his family is in the narrow Palestinian territory, including extended family members who have died in the latest fighting.
"If we don't take stances in moments that are so high urgency like this, we allow a precedent to be set where this kind of violence becomes normalised," he told AFP.
Such activism is extremely rare in the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms where unauthorised protests are banned and public discourse is tightly controlled.