Israel-Gaza war: Arab and UK diplomatic efforts intensify in Saudi Arabia

Britain's James Cleverly joins Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Riyadh, aimed at finding resolution to the fighting

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly meets with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Riyadh. Saudi Press Agency
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Arab League foreign ministers are meeting in Saudi Arabia's capital on Thursday ahead of a weekend of summits focusing on a collective response to the war in the Gaza Strip.

Britain's James Cleverly is among those attending a closed Arab foreign ministers' meeting to find a resolution to the Israel-Gaza war.

Mr Cleverly will be involved in discussions on increasing the volume of aid reaching civilians in besieged Gaza, including medicine, fuel and water, a statement said.

Several Saudi officials were at the same time gathering at a separate Arab League-African-Saudi economic forum. Saudi Arabia will also go ahead with hosting an emergency Arab League summit, as well as an Islamic Forum meeting, with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi expected to attend.

President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly said he will not return to the Gaza Strip on the back of an Israeli tank
Fatah source

While foreign ministers in Riyadh have been focused on drafting a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, a major part of the side-line discussions have dealt with finding compromises to offer to the US and Israel to bring about an immediate halt to hostilities.

Short-term goals

Discussions have also focused on the complete removal of Hamas from the Gaza Strip and the possibility of the return of the Palestinian Authority (PA) run by the President Mahmoud Abbas, several diplomatic sources confirmed to The National.

“There have been smaller discussions, of course, on the future of what happens next in Gaza, at least what’s left of it, and who runs the strip after Israel stops its war,” a Saudi diplomatic source told The National.

"There’s a sense that the status quo cannot continue but, of course, there’s no consensus on a future without any Hamas representation in the Gaza Strip."

A source close to Mr Abbas’s government told The National that Fatah, which runs the PA and is the rival party to Hamas, confirmed they have rejected the idea of a return outright.

“President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly said he will not return to the Gaza Strip on the back of an Israeli tank,” the Fatah source said.

"While he appreciates that such discussions would possibly alleviate the ongoing suffering, the main focus is on a unified Palestinian cause that has to include different factions, including Hamas."

Diplomatic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said their focus was on short-term goals such as increasing aid crossing through Rafah, speeding up the pace of hostage negotiations, acting as mediators between the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans, as well as re-energising efforts towards implementing the Arab Peace Initiative.

While observers hope the meeting will pressurise the US to rein in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, the most likely scenario appears to be that fighting will continue, perhaps for weeks or months.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli forces were operating in areas of Gaza city that Hamas "never thought they would", while Israeli officials talked of removing the militant group’s ability to lead the enclave and suggested Hamas's Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar, was "isolated" in a bunker.

Khalid Al Falih, Saudi Arabia’s Investment Minister, said talks aimed at establishing diplomatic ties with Israel would continue – despite the kingdom’s recent criticism of Israeli military actions in Gaza – but would be “contingent on a pathway to a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question”.

The latest efforts from the Qatari mediation of hostages has been focused on the release of 10-15 captives held by Hamas in the coming days in exchange for a three-day humanitarian ceasefire, a source from Qatar’s Foreign Ministry confirmed.

Israeli forces and Hamas militants appeared to be battling at close range in Gaza city, as thousands of civilians fled to the south on Wednesday to avoid being trapped in the conflict.

Israel struck Gaza in response to a cross-border Hamas raid on southern Israel on October 7 in which gunmen killed about 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Palestinian officials said 10,569 people had been killed as of Wednesday, 40 per cent of them children, in Israel's military operation to wipe out Hamas.

Syrian Foreign Minister Dr Faisal Al Miqdad arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to participate in the preparatory meeting of the Arab League Council.

The ministerial meeting on Thursday is the second in less than a month, the last being held at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo on October 10.

It is expected the emergency Arab summit will demand a ceasefire, in addition to a solid political position to support the Palestinians, said Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 7:11 AM