Riyadh (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and Muslim countries called on Saturday for an immediate end to military operations in Gaza, declaring at a joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh that Israel bears responsibility for “crimes” against Palestinians.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, gathered Arab and Muslim leaders for the summit as the kingdom has sought to exert its influence to press the United States and Israel for an end to hostilities in Gaza.
Dozens of leaders including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, 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, attended the meeting.
Prince Mohammed said the kingdom affirms its “condemnation and categorical rejection of this barbaric war against our brothers in Palestine”.
“We are facing a humanitarian catastrophe that proves the failure of the Security Council and the international community to put an end to the flagrant Israeli violations of international laws,” he said in an address to the summit.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians are facing a “genocidal war” and called on the United States to end Israeli “aggression”.
Raisi hailed the Palestinian group Hamas for its war against Israel and urged Islamic countries to impose oil and goods sanctions on Israel.
“There is no other way but to resist Israel, we kiss the hands of Hamas for its resistance against Israel,” Raisi said in his address.
The Middle East has been on edge since Hamas fighters rampaged into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people.
Since then, Israel has escalated its assault on Gaza, where 11,078 people had been killed as of Friday, 40% of them children, according to Palestinian officials.
Arab Countries Divided
Fighting intensified overnight into Saturday near Gaza City’s overcrowded hospitals, Palestinian officials said.
A baby died in an incubator at Gaza’s largest hospital after it lost power, and a patient in intensive care was killed by an Israeli shell, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The war has upended traditional Middle East alliances as Riyadh has engaged more closely with Iran, pushed back against U.S. pressure to condemn Hamas and put on hold its plans to normalise ties with Israel.
Raisi’s trip to Saudi Arabia is the first by an Iranian head of state in more than a decade. Tehran and Riyadh ended years of hostility under a Chinese-brokered deal in March.
Erdogan called for an international peace conference to find a permanent solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
“What we need in Gaza is not pauses for a couple of hours, rather we need a permanent ceasefire,” Erdogan told the summit.
Qatar’s Emir said his country, where several Hamas leaders are based, is seeking to mediate the release of Israeli hostages and hopes a humanitarian truce would be reached soon.
“For how long will the international community treat Israel as if it is above international laws,” he said.
The kingdom had been scheduled to host two extraordinary summits, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League, on Saturday and Sunday. The joint summit will replace the two gatherings in light of the “extraordinary” Gaza situation, the Saudi Foreign ministry said.
Hamas had called on the summit to take “a historic and decisive decision and move to stop the Zionist aggression immediately”.
Arab foreign ministers were divided as some countries, led by Algeria, called for a complete cut in diplomatic ties with Israel, two delegates told Reuters.
Other Arab countries, which have established diplomatic relations with Israel, pushed back, stressing the need to keep channels open with Netanyahu’s government, they said.