Saudi hosts Arab diplomats for Gaza talks after Blinken tour

Published : 09 Feb 2024 08:59 PM

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.