Saudi Arabia hosts Arab-Islamic summit to ‘unify efforts’ on Gaza

An Arab-Islamic summit hosted by Saudi Arabia called for an end to the war in Gaza and rejected justifying Israel’s actions against Palestinians as self-defence.

The summit on Saturday condemned “Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, war crimes and barbaric and inhumane massacres by the occupation government”, a final communique said.

It also called for an end to the siege on Gaza, allowing humanitarian aid into the enclave and halting arms exports to Israel, following the meeting in Riyadh.

The leaders demanded that the UN Security Council adopt “a decisive and binding resolution” to halt Israel’s “aggression” in Gaza.

Originally, only the 22 members of the Arab League were expected to participate, but the meeting was later expanded to include the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a wider association of 57 mostly Muslim-majority states to which the Arab League countries belong.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra said that without consensus among the summit attendees, its outcomes are useless.

“People do understand that the Israelis don’t really care about what is happening at this summit between the OIC and Arab League leaders. When you look at the communique you get a sense that the Arab and Muslim leaders do not have a mechanism to push a ceasefire and humanitarian corridor,” Ahelbarra said.

“This summit was just for the sake of a semblance of unity … in the Arab and Muslim world. It’s a watered-down statement. Not all Arab leaders decided to attend this summit because of the huge differences and divisions among the key players of the summit. That’s why they put this vaguely worded statement for public consumption,” he added.

In the opening remarks, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) called for an immediate cessation of military operations in Gaza and the release of all captives and prisoners.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe that has proved the failure of the international community and the UN Security Council to put an end to Israel’s gross violations of international humanitarian laws, and prove the dual standards adopted by the world,” he said.

“We are certain the only cause for peace is the end of the Israeli occupation and illegal settlements, and restoration of the established rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of the state on 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” MBS added.

Turkish President Recep Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Israel was taking revenge on Gazan babies, children and women, as he renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire.

“What is urgent in Gaza is not pauses for a few hours, rather we need a permanent ceasefire,” he added. “We cannot put Hamas resisters defending their homeland in the same category as the occupiers.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas highlighted that besides Gaza, Israeli forces’ raids in the occupied West Bank have also escalated and called on the United States to put an end to “Israel’s aggression, the occupation, violation and desecration of our holy sites”.

“No military and security solutions are acceptable as they have all failed. We categorically reject any efforts to displace our people from Gaza or the West Bank,” Abbas added.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani questioned for how long the international community will treat Israel as if it is above international law.

“The international world remains immune in front of all these scenes. Who could have imagined that hospitals could be publicly shelled in the 21st century?” he asked.

‘A unified collective position’

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the joint Arab League and OIC meeting was being held “in response to the exceptional circumstances taking place in the Palestinian Gaza Strip as countries feel the need to unify efforts and come out with a unified collective position”.

The OIC includes member states from across the Islamic world, including the Palestinian territories’ neighbours Egypt and Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, emphasised that the policy of “collective punishment” by killing, siege and forcible transfer, is unacceptable.

“This cannot be interpreted as self-defence and must be stopped immediately”.

With Iran repeatedly warning that the scope of war will expand if Israel does not stop its attacks, President Ebrahim Raisi also attended the meeting in Riyadh, marking the first visit by an Iranian president in 11 years.

“Blind bombardment against Gaza must stop,” Raisi said, adding that “Islamic governments should designate the army of the occupying and aggressor regime [Israel] as a terrorist organisation”.

Raisi highlighted that Washington is supporting Israel in the United Nations and vetoes resolutions that prevent the killing of Palestinians.

“It has paved the way for Israel to kill more, to bombard more and to shell more.”

Hold Israel ‘accountable’

Israel has not relented in its attacks on the Gaza Strip despite increasing calls for an immediate ceasefire, especially from the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The non-stop air raids and ground assaults – which came in response to the October 7 attack by Hamas which killed about 1,200 Israelis – have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

Israel has significantly ramped up its attacks on hospitals in recent days, and the UN has said the lives of one million children in Gaza are “hanging on by a thread”.

The Arab League consists of 22 countries, including Syria, which was earlier this year accepted back after Arab leaders restarted talks with President Bashar al-Assad following a decade of civil war in the country.

The bloc’s Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki said this week that it 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 joint summit comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity across the region and beyond. Saudi Arabia had hosted an African-Saudi summit in Riyadh on Friday, where MBS called for an end to the war.

Leaders of Russia, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan convened in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on Thursday for talks that included the situation in Gaza.

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