Leaders and top officials from more than a dozen countries have gathered in the Egyptian capital Cairo for a conference to discuss ways to “de-escalate” the Israel-Hamas war amid growing fears of a wider Middle East conflict.
The so-called Cairo Peace Summit will see representatives from countries including Jordan, France, Germany, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, the United States, Qatar and South Africa, along with representatives from the United Nations and the European Union attend the day-long meeting on Saturday.
In his opening speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on leaders to agree on a roadmap to end the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip and revive the path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The roadmap’s objectives included delivering aid to Gaza and agreeing to a ceasefire, followed by negotiations leading to a two-state solution, he said.
“The lives of all civilians matter,” Jordan’s King Abdullah said in his address to the summit. “The relentless bombing campaign currently taking place in Gaza is cruel and ruthless in every way. It is a collective punishment of a besieged and helpless people. This is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. It’s a war crime.”
“Anywhere else it would be condemnable to attack civilian infrastructure and deliberately starve an entire population of food, water, electricity and basic needs. Accountability would be enforced… but not in Gaza,” he added.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the summit and called for the opening of humanitarian corridors. But the absence of an official from the Israeli side has dampened expectations of the summit’s outcomes.
Al Jazeera diplomatic editor James Bays said that while it was good for these countries to propose a roadmap out of this crisis, “will Israel listen to that roadmap?”
“Israel is not represented. It is Israeli generals, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli War Cabinet who decide what to do militarily, and as the speeches continue, you see the bombing of Gaza happening again,” Bays noted.
The summit comes as Israel prepares a ground attack on Gaza, following weeks of airstrikes following the October 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,400 people in Israel. More than 4,200 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli counteroffensive amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Egypt last week called for an international conference to discuss “developments and the future of the Palestinian cause.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the meeting aimed to reach an “international agreement” on the need for de-escalation and humanitarian aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip.
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the only entry point not controlled by Israel, was closed for nearly two weeks because of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, but was opened on Saturday to allow only 20 aid trucks to enter.
Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, is worried about a mass exodus of Palestinians into its territory.
President el-Sisi said on Wednesday that millions of Egyptians would reject any forced relocation of Palestinians to Sinai, adding that such a move would turn the Egyptian peninsula into a base for attacks on Israel.
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.
Arab countries have expressed anger over Israel’s unprecedented bombing and siege of the Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million people.
Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, said there was “a great deal of political grandstanding” in the opening speeches of Arab leaders at the Cairo summit as they expressed their commitment to a two-year deal -State solution reaffirmed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“A lot of this is about the domestic legitimacy of these leaders, particularly El-Sisi, who is worried that the population will become uneasy if they don’t see him doing something for the Palestinian cause,” he told Al Jazeera .
Despite the “showboating”, Owen Jones said the summit’s impact on developments on the ground would be limited.
He said “the realistic practical outcome” would be “at most a ceasefire and at least some more humanitarian aid.”
“Without Israel at the table, I cannot imagine that there will be a sufficient level of political influence here to stop Israel’s bombing of Gaza.”
Clashes on Israel’s border with Lebanon and attempted attacks by Iranian-backed forces elsewhere have stoked fears of a spillover, particularly if a ground offensive proves bloody, while rising anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic harassment around the world has raised security concerns in many countries.
European countries struggled to agree on a unified approach to the crisis beyond condemning the Hamas attack after days of confusion and mixed messages.
Source : www.aljazeera.com