Arab leaders and Iran’s president are in the Saudi capital Saturday for summits expected to underscore demands that Israel’s war in Gaza end before the violence draws in other countries.
The emergency meetings of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation come after Hamas militants’ bloody October 7 attacks that Israeli officials say left about 1,200 people dead and 239 taken hostage.
Israel’s subsequent aerial and ground offensive has killed more than 11,000 people, mostly civilians and many of them children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Aid groups have joined pleas for a ceasefire, warning of a humanitarian “disaster” in Gaza, where food, water and medicine are in short supply.
The Arab League aims to demonstrate “how the Arabs will transfer on the worldwide scene to cease the aggression, assist Palestine and its individuals, condemn the Israeli occupation, and maintain it accountable for its crimes”, the bloc’s assistant secretary-general, Hossam Zaki, said this week.
But Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad on Friday said it did not “count on something” from the meeting, criticising Arab leaders for the delay.
“We usually are not putting our hopes on such conferences, for we’ve got seen their outcomes over a few years,” Mohammad al-Hindi, the group’s deputy secretary-general, told a press conference in Beirut.
“The undeniable fact that this convention shall be held after 35 days (of struggle) is a sign of its outcomes.”
Israel and its main backer the United States have so far rebuffed demands for a ceasefire, a position that is expected to draw heavy criticism during Saturday’s meetings.
A united “diplomatic entrance… will generate diplomatic strain from Arab and Muslim states,” said Saudi analyst Aziz Alghashian.
Criticism from regional leaders so far indicates “that this isn’t nearly Israel-Palestine — that is about what’s facilitating Israel to do that, which is mainly the United States and the West”, he added.
That clash 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 a number of his Arab counterparts who have called for a ceasefire.
“What we’ve got mentioned is that calling for a ceasefire is comprehensible, however what we additionally recognise is that Israel is taking motion to safe its personal stability and its personal safety,” Cleverly said on Thursday.
“Of course we need to see this horrible scenario resolved as shortly as attainable. The fast problem is the humanitarian wants of the individuals of Gaza. That’s why we’re specializing in that.”
– Raisi to Riyadh –
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s expected attendance at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting will be his first trip to Saudi Arabia since the two Middle East heavyweights reached a surprise rapprochement deal in March, ending seven years of severed ties.
Iran backs Hamas as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels, placing it at the centre of concerns 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.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia feels vulnerable to potential attacks because of its close ties with the Washington and the fact that it was considering normalising ties with Israel before the war broke out.
Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday condemned “continued violations of worldwide humanitarian legislation by the Israeli occupation forces,” his first public comments on the war, though Riyadh has levelled similar criticism in multiple statements.
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 actual fact they did not normalise but, and the truth that they’ve a channel to the Iranians, provides them some safety.”
“And I feel the Iranians are hoping that the truth that they’re in contact with the Saudis and sustaining that channel, that it provides them some safety too.”
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