Picture: Belal Al SABBAGH / AFP / Taken on November 10, 2023 – An aerial view shows Palestinian families fleeing to the southern part of the Gaza Strip along the Salah Al-Din road in the Wadi Gaza district on November 10, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. Saudi Arabia gathered Arab and Muslim leaders yesterday for an emergency joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh, as the kingdom exerts its influence to press the US and Israel to end hostilities in Gaza, the writers say.
By Reuters and AFP
Arab and Muslim leaders yesterday rejected any proposal that would keep Gaza separate from the West Bank in a future Palestinian state, as Israel pressed its war against Hamas in Gaza.
Saudi Arabia gathered Arab and Muslim leaders yesterday for an emergency joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh, as the kingdom exerts its influence to press the US and Israel to end hostilities in Gaza.
Dozens of leaders attended the summit which strongly condemned Israel’s campaign in Gaza and called for a halt to the forced displacement of Palestinians there.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was welcomed back into the Arab League earlier this year, also attended.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi arrived for the summit, the first visit to the kingdom by an Iranian head of state since Tehran and Riyadh ended years of hostility under a China-brokered deal in March.
“The US has prevented the ceasefire in Gaza and is expanding the scope of the war,” Raisi said before departing from Tehran. “Gaza is not an arena for words. It should be for action.
“Today, the unity of the Islamic countries is very important,” Raisi said.
Raisi is the first Iranian president to visit Saudi Arabia since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended an Organisation of Islamic Co-operation Summit (OIC) meeting in the kingdom in 2012.
Raisi called on Islamic governments to designate Israel’s military as a “terrorist organisation”, citing its operations in the Gaza Strip.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday condemned “what the Gaza Strip is facing from military assault, targeting of civilians, the violations of international law by the Israeli occupation authorities”.
Speaking at the joint summit yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Palestinians were facing an “unmatched genocidal war”, calling on the US to pressure Israel into halting its offensive on Gaza. He also said Palestinians needed international protection in the face of Israeli attacks.
A statement from the summit in the Saudi capital stressed the importance of “the unity of Gaza and the West Bank as the territory of the Palestinian State”, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The Middle East has been on edge since Hamas fighters rampaged into Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,200 people. Since then, Israel has escalated its assault on Gaza where more than 11,000 Gaza residents have been killed as of Friday, 40 percent of them children, said Palestinian officials.
The war has upended traditional Middle East alliances as Riyadh engaged more closely with Iran, pushed back against US pressure to condemn Hamas and put on hold its plans to normalise ties with Israel.
Saudi Arabia had planned to host two summits, the OIC and the Arab League summit, this weekend. The joint Islamic-Arab summit replaced the two gatherings in light of the “extraordinary” Gaza situation, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.
The move underscores the importance of reaching “a unified collective position that expresses the common Arab and Islamic will regarding the dangerous and unprecedented developments witnessed in Gaza and the Palestinian territories,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The Arab League aims to demonstrate “how the Arabs will move on the international scene to stop the aggression, support Palestine and its people, condemn the Israeli occupation and hold it accountable for its crimes”, the bloc’s assistant secretary-general, Hossam Zaki, said this week.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia feels vulnerable to potential attacks because of its close ties with the US and the fact that it was considering normalising ties with Israel before the war broke out. Kim Ghattas, author of a book on the Iran-Saudi rivalry, said during a panel organised by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington that “the Saudis are hoping that the fact they didn’t normalise yet, and the fact that they have a channel to the Iranians gives them some protection.”
And, she added: “The Iranians are hoping that the fact that they’re in touch with the Saudis and maintaining that channel, that it gives them some protection, too.”
Arab foreign ministers, who held an emergency meeting on Thursday to prepare for the summit, were divided as some countries, led by Algeria, called to cut all diplomatic ties with Israel, two delegates told Reuters.
A bloc of Arab countries, which have established diplomatic relations with Israel, pushed back, stressing the need to keep channels open with Netanyahu’s government.
Earlier in the week it was reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to maintain diplomatic ties with Israel and hopes to have some moderating influence over the Israeli campaign while safeguarding its own interests, according to sources familiar with UAE government policy.
Abu Dhabi became the most prominent Arab nation to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in 30 years under the US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020. That paved the way for other Arab states to forge ties with Israel by breaking a taboo on normalising relations without the creation of a Palestinian state.
UAE officials have condemned Israel’s actions and repeatedly called for an end to the violence. An Emirati official said the UAE’s immediate priority was to secure a ceasefire and to open up humanitarian corridors.
The Gulf Arab power wields significant influence in regional affairs. It also serves as a security partner of the US, hosting American forces.
Iran backs Hamas as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels, placing it at the centre of concerns that the war could expand.
The conflict has already fuelled cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, and the Huthis have claimed responsibility for “ballistic missiles” the rebels said targeted southern Israel.
Hamas called on the summit to take “a historic and decisive decision and move to stop the Zionist aggression immediately”.
“We call on Arab and Muslim leaders … to put pressure on the American administration, which bears direct responsibility in the genocidal war that our people are facing in the Gaza Strip,” a statement from the Palestinian militant group said.
But Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad on Friday said it did not “expect anything” from the meeting, criticising Arab leaders for the delay.
“We are not placing our hopes on such meetings, for we have seen their results over many years,” Mohammad al-Hindi, the group’s deputy secretary-general, told a press conference in Beirut.
“The fact that this conference will be held after 35 days (of war) is an indication of its outcomes.”
Aid groups have joined pleas for a ceasefire, warning of a humanitarian “catastrophe” in Gaza, where food, water and medicine are in short supply. Israel and its main backer the US have so far rebuffed demands for a ceasefire, a position that is expected to draw heavy criticism.
It has agreed to periodic pauses in the fighting to allow people in Gaza to leave the north where the fighting is most intense.
“This is not just about Israel-Palestine – this is about what is facilitating Israel to do this, which is basically the United States and the West,” said Saudi analyst Aziz Alghashian.
That tension has been on display during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent visits to the region, as well as during a stop this week in Riyadh by British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who met with his Arab counterparts who have called for a ceasefire.
“Calling for a ceasefire is understandable, but what we also recognise is that Israel is taking action to secure its own stability and its own security,” Cleverly said. – Reuters and AFP