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Muslim leaders slam Israel, but differ on response

The final statement from a summit in the Saudi capital said participants “reject describing this war as self-defence or justifying it under any pretext”

By Ag Agencies
November 12, 2023
The image shows the group photo of leaders of the Arab League and the OIC after the joint summit concluded in Riyadh. — PID
The image shows the group photo of leaders of the Arab League and the OIC after the joint summit concluded in Riyadh. — PID 

RIYADH: Arab and Muslim leaders on Saturday said they rejected Israeli claims of “self-defence” in Gaza and demanded an immediate halt to military operations there after more than a month of war.

The final statement from a summit in the Saudi capital said participants “reject describing this war as self-defence or justifying it under any pretext”.

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

The communique also called for an end to the siege on Gaza, allowing humanitarian aid into the enclave and halting arms exports to Israel. The summit said Israel bears responsibility for “crimes” against Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had hosted the Arab and Muslim leaders for the summit as the kingdom 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.

The summit participants condemned Israeli forces’ ‘barbaric’ actions in Gaza, but declined to approve punitive economic and political steps against the country over its war against Gazans.

The summit took place against a backdrop of widespread anger in the Middle East and beyond over 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 Palestine health ministry.

The clauses, endorsed by 11 Arab states but rejected by four others, included: prohibiting the use of American and other military bases in Arab countries to supply Israel with weapons and ammunition, freezing Arab diplomatic, economic, security, and military relations with Israel, threatening to leverage oil and Arab economic capabilities to apply pressure and halt the ongoing aggression, preventing Israeli civil aviation from accessing Arab airspace and establishing an Arab Ministerial Committee tasked with immediate travel to New York, Washington, Brussels, Geneva, London, and Paris to convey the Arab Summit’s plea to halt Israeli aggression against Gaza.

The 11 Arab countries that proposed and endorsed the plan are: Palestine, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Libya and Yemen.

However, the organisation refrained from explicitly disclosing the identities of those who voted against or chose to abstain. According to the diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity said at least three countries -- including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalised ties with Israel in 2020 -- rejected the proposal.

In a statement issued from Gaza, Hamas called on summit participants to expel Israeli ambassadors, form a legal commission to try “Israeli war criminals” and create a reconstruction fund for the territory.

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. He said that Israel bears responsibility for “crimes committed against Palestinian people”, calling for an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip.

Speaking during the extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh, the crown prince also called for immediate end to military operations and the release of hostages.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called on Islamic governments to designate Israel’s military a “terrorist organisation”, citing its current operations in the Gaza Strip.

“Islamic governments should designate the army of the occupying and aggressor regime as a terrorist organisation,” Raisi told the summit.

In his first visit to Riyadh since Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore ties in March, Raisi urged nations that have ties with Israel to sever them and called for greater support for Palestinians. He called for “cutting any sort of political or economic relations with the Zionist regime” as important steps to be taken by Islamic countries.

Implementing a “trade boycott against the Zionist regime especially in the energy field should be prioritised,” he added.

The Iranian president, whose country is a supporter of Hamas, hit out at the United States for providing financial and military support to Israel. “Both the war machine of the Zionist regime and its fuel belong to the Americans,” he said, adding that “undoubtedly, the US government is the commander and the main accomplice of this crime.”

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.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians are facing a “genocidal war” and called on the United States to end Israeli “aggression”.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said an international peace conference should be convened 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 said in his address to the summit in Riyadh.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for an immediate sustainable ceasefire in Gaza “without restrictions or conditions”.

“The policies of collective punishment of the people of Gaza...are unacceptable and cannot be justified by self-defence or any other claims. They must be stopped immediately,” he added during a speech at an extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh.

Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar suggested that the Arab and Islamic countries should explore the possibility of initiating proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Israel for its war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Genocide Convention and under the interim measures request.

The UN Secretary-General could be requested to establish a special commission of inquiry to investigate Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity since October 7, the prime minister said during his address at the Arab Islamic Extraordinary Summit.

The prime minister further said that they should also demand establishing an international mechanism and call for a halt to illegal settlements by Israel.

“We call for a political solution for which it is imperative that conditions are created for a dialogue between the Palestinians and Israel to evolve a way forward through the two-state solution,” he reiterated.

The prime minister said that a permanent solution to the conflict was in the establishment of a secure, viable, contiguous and sovereign state of Palestine on the basis of pre-June 1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its Capital and urged upon the Muslim countries to work towards that end.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said a lack of concrete punitive measures against Israel would render the summit toothless. “If we do not have real tools for pressure, then any step we take or speech we give will have no meaning,” said Assad, who was welcomed back into the Arab fold this year after an extended rift over his country’s civil war.

He said no Middle Eastern country should engage in any “political process” with Israel, including developing economic relations, until a lasting ceasefire is reached.

Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan on Saturday said that what is happening in Gaza is collective punishment carried out by Israel.

In a press conference in Riyadh following the Arab-Islamic summit, Prince Faisal stated that the war in Gaza must cease, and peace can only be achieved through the Palestinian state.

Responding to journalists’ questions, the Saudi foreign minister emphasized that some countries justify Israel’s violations of international law. He pointed out that they closely monitor the double standards of the West and evaluate their positions.

The coordination between Arab and Islamic countries regarding Gaza is significant, and the shift in positions is not sufficient, he affirmed, emphasizing the need to stop the war and protect civilians.

He stressed the continued pressure on the double standards and the international community’s reluctance, while also insisting on the necessity of creating an opportunity for peace. “We call for peace, while the other party moves away from it,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and Iran’s president held their first meeting on Saturday since the Middle East heavyweights agreed to mend ties in March, Saudi state media reported.

The official Saudi Press Agency posted on X, formerly Twitter, a picture of Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Ebrahim Raisi sitting side-by-side on the sidelines of a Saudi-hosted summit on Gaza.