RIYADH, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia gathered Arab and Muslim leaders on Saturday for an extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh, as the kingdom exerts its influence to pressure the United States and Israel to end hostilities in Gaza.
Dozens of leaders, including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, are attending the summit, which is expected to strongly condemn Israel’s campaign in Gaza and call for an end to 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 to the Arab League earlier this year, are also attending.
Raisi said on Saturday that the time had come for action on the conflict rather than talk as he headed to Riyadh.
“Gaza is not an arena for words. It should be for action,” he said at Tehran’s airport before departure. “Today, the unity of the Islamic countries is very important,” he added.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news site said Raisi will propose that Muslim countries ban Israel from using their airspace and prevent the United States from sending weapons to Israel from its military bases in the region.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday condemned “what the Gaza Strip is facing from military attacks, targeting civilians, the Israeli occupation authorities’ violations of international law”.
The Middle East has been on edge since Hamas fighters stormed into Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people.
Since then, Israel has escalated its assault on Gaza, with 11,078 Gazans killed as of Friday, 40% of them children, according to Palestinian officials.
ARAB COUNTRIES DIVIDED
The fighting intensified overnight Saturday near Gaza City’s crowded hospitals, which Palestinian officials said were hit by explosions and gunfire.
The war has upended traditional Middle Eastern alliances as Riyadh engaged more closely with Iran, pushed back against US pressure to condemn Hamas and put its plans to normalize ties with Israel on hold.
Raisi’s trip to Saudi Arabia is the first visit by an Iranian head of state since Tehran and Riyadh ended years of hostilities under a China-brokered deal in March.
The kingdom was scheduled to host two extraordinary summits, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit and the Arab League summit, on Saturday and Sunday. The joint summit will replace the two separate gatherings in light of the “extraordinary” situation in Gaza, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.
Hamas called on the summit to take “a historic and decisive decision and take steps to stop the Zionist aggression immediately”.
“We call on Arab and Muslim leaders … to put pressure on the US administration, which bears direct responsibility for the genocidal war our people are facing in the Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian militant group said in a statement .
Arab foreign ministers, who held an emergency meeting on Thursday to prepare for the summit, were split as some countries, led by Algeria, were called to cut all diplomatic ties with Israel, two delegates told Reuters.
A bloc of Arab countries that have established diplomatic ties with Israel pulled back, stressing the need to keep channels open with Netanyahu’s government, they said.
Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Hatem Maher, Nayera Abdallah, Moaz Abd-Alaziz in Cairo and DUbai Newsroom; Written by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Sandra Maler, William Maclean
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