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Saudi hosts Arab diplomats for Gaza talks after Blinken tour

AFP

Feb. 09, 2024
Image of Saudi hosts Arab diplomats for Gaza talks after Blinken tour US Secretary of State Antony Blinken walks to board his aircraft prior to departure from Ben Gurion International airport on February 8, 2024. (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)

Middle Eastern diplomats met in Saudi Arabia, stressing urgent recognition of Palestine, ceasefire in Gaza, and lifting aid restrictions. They supported UNRWA, endorsed the two-state solution with East Jerusalem as capital, and urged Israel's recognition.

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Four top Middle Eastern diplomats reiterated calls for "irreversible" steps towards the recognition of a Palestinian state during talks on the war in Gaza hosted by Saudi Arabia, state media reported on Friday.

The meeting -- held on Thursday as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded his fifth crisis tour of the Middle East since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war -- was attended by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, as well as a senior Palestinian official.

Two diplomats briefed on preparations for the meeting told AFP it was intended to promote a unified Arab position on the war, now in its fifth month.

"In their meeting, the ministers emphasized the need to end the war on the Gaza Strip, reach an immediate and complete ceasefire, ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law, and lift all restrictions that impede the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

They also voiced support for UNRWA, the UN Palestinian aid agency that is under fire over Israeli accusations that 12 staff members were involved in Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which triggered the war.

"They also stressed the importance of taking irreversible steps to implement the two-state solution and recognize the state of Palestine on the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital," SPA said.

Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, has never recognised Israel, though officials were considering doing so before the Hamas attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas in response, launching air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed at least 27,840 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

US President Joe Biden's administration continues to tout the possibility of Saudi-Israeli normalisation, though the Saudi foreign ministry said this week it would not be possible without a halt to Israeli "aggression" and recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Blinken left the region without securing a pause in fighting, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered troops to "prepare to operate" in Rafah, the last major town in the Gaza Strip ground forces have yet to enter.

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Author AFP

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