Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Arab leaders and Iran’s president meeting in the Saudi capital on Saturday roundly condemned Israel’s actions in its war against Hamas in Gaza, as fears mount the conflict could draw in other countries.
The emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) comes in the wake of Israel’s aerial and ground offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 11,000 people, mostly civilians and many of them children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Host Saudi Arabia “confirms that it holds the occupation (Israeli) authorities responsible for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, said as Saturday’s summit began.
“We are certain that the only way to guarantee security, peace and stability in the region is to end the occupation, siege and the settlements,” he said of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, on his first trip to Saudi Arabia since the two countries mended ties in March, said Islamic countries should designate the Israeli army a “terrorist organisation” for its conduct in Gaza.
Israel says it is out to destroy Hamas and blames the Palestinian armed group for the high death toll, accusing it of using civilians as ‘human shields’ – a charge Hamas denies.
The Arab League and the OIC, a 57-member bloc that includes Iran, were originally meant to meet separately.
Arab diplomats told AFP the decision to merge the meetings came after Arab League delegations failed to reach an agreement on a final statement.
Some countries, including Algeria and Lebanon, proposed responding to the devastation in Gaza by threatening to disrupt oil supplies to Israel and its allies as well as severing the economic and diplomatic ties that some Arab League nations have with Israel, diplomats said.
However, at least three countries – including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalised ties with Israel in 2020 – rejected the proposal, according to the diplomats who spoke on condition on anonymity.
Failure of UN Security Council
H E Sayyid Badr al Busaidi, Oman’s Foreign Minister, stressed in his speech that Palestinian people are facing horrendous human suffering, which is heartbreaking.
“Self-defence does not come about by killing children, women and defenceless men; demolishing homes, places of worship, facilities, schools and hospitals; depriving residents of water, food, fuel and medicine; and imposing a stifling and unlawful blockade.”
He said this is happening due to the United Nations Security Council’s failure to take decisive action to stop the barbaric war that Israel is waging in the Gaza Strip under the pretext self defence.
He said he was saddened to see the position of some friendly countries that defend international law and its application in other regions of the world, while not denouncing Israel’s violation of it in the context of Palestine.
The final statement from the joint summit demanded that the UN Security Council adopt ‘a decisive and binding resolution’ to halt Israel’s ‘aggression’ in Gaza. ‘Failure to do so is complicity that allows Israel to continue its brutal aggression that kills innocent people… and turns Gaza into ruin’.
The leaders rejected any proposal that would keep Gaza separate from the West Bank in a future Palestinian state.
They 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.
They further rejected describing ‘the war in Gaza as self-defence or justifying it under any pretext’ and demanded an immediate halt to military operations there after more than a month of war.