© Reuters. Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli attack on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City on October 21, 2023. REUTERS/Mutasem Murtaja
By Aidan Lewis and Nafisa Eltahir
CAIRO (Reuters) – Arab leaders condemned Israel’s two-week bombing of the Gaza Strip at a meeting of Western and other leaders on Saturday and called for renewed efforts to end a decades-long cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
They addressed a hastily arranged gathering called the Cairo Peace Summit, attended by heads of state and government and foreign ministers from Europe, Africa and beyond. However, a senior European Union official previously said it was unclear whether a joint statement would be reached given the “differences” between participants.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally and a key player in all previous peace efforts in the region, sent only the chargé d’affaires of its embassy in Cairo as conflict raged in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
Jordan’s King Abdullah condemned what he called a global silence over Israel’s attacks that have killed thousands in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and left over a million homeless, and called for a balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The message the Arab world is hearing is that Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli lives,” he said, adding that he was outraged and saddened by the violence against innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel.
“The Israeli leadership must recognize once and for all that a state can never prosper if it is built on a foundation of injustice… Our message to Israelis should be that we want a future of peace and security for you and the Palestinians .” “
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians would not be displaced or driven off their land.
“We will not leave, we will not leave,” he told the summit.
Israel has vowed to “wipe the Iranian-backed Hamas militant group from the face of the earth” after a shocking attack in southern Israel on October 7 that left 1,400 people dead. This was the deadliest Palestinian militant attack in Israel’s 75-year history.
She said she had told Palestinians to move south within the Gaza Strip for their own safety, even though the coastal strip is only 45 km (28 miles) long and Israeli airstrikes have also hit the south.
The meeting in Cairo looked for ways to prevent a major regional war. But three diplomats said it was unlikely there would be a joint statement amid concerns about possible calls for a ceasefire and whether to mention Hamas’ attack and Israel’s right to defend itself.
The absence of some Western leaders has dampened expectations of what the event can achieve. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron were not present.
The summit coincides with ongoing Israeli preparations for a ground attack on Gaza. More than 4,100 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli counteroffensive amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Arab countries have expressed anger over Israel’s unprecedented bombing and siege of the Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million people and one of the most densely populated places on earth.
In his speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his country opposed what he called the expulsion of Palestinians into Egypt’s largely deserted Sinai region.
“Egypt says the solution to the Palestinian question is not expulsion, but the only solution is justice and Palestinians’ access to legitimate rights and life in an independent state.”
King Abdullah said forced displacement was “a war crime under international law and a red line for all of us.”
Egypt is concerned about insecurity near the Gaza border in northeast Sinai, where it has faced an Islamist insurgency that peaked after 2013 and has since been largely suppressed.
Egypt’s position reflects Arab fears that Palestinians could again flee or be expelled from their homes en masse, as was the case during the war over the creation of Israel in 1948.
Jordan, home to large numbers of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, fears that a major conflagration would give Israel the chance to implement a transfer policy to drive Palestinians out of the West Bank en masse.
Shortly before the opening of the summit, trucks loaded with humanitarian aid entered the Rafah border crossing into Gaza. Egypt has been trying for days to funnel humanitarian aid into Gaza through the border crossing, the only entry point not controlled by Israel.
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