Palestinian President Abbas says US will be held responsible should Israel invade Rafah

Washington urged to convince Israel that military offensive on city would be unacceptable

Full remarks of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh

Full remarks of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the US is the only country that can stop a feared Israeli invasion of Rafah and it will be held responsible for an attack on the Gazan city where more than a million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge.

Addressing a special meeting of the World Economic Forum in Riyadh, Mr Abbas said “all of Gaza” has crammed into the city on the Egyptian border, which has been under threat of an Israeli invasion for months.

“A small strike is all it takes to force everyone to leave Palestine,” he said, warning he expects Israel to invade Rafah “within days”.

“We especially call upon the United States of America to request Israel to hold its fire, because the US is the only country that can prevent Israel from perpetrating this crime.

“Israel needs someone to force it to stop, to convince Israel that this is unacceptable, and the only country in the world that can do that, and which we hold responsible, is the United States of America.”

Gaza is expected to dominate the WEF talks in Riyadh, where Mr Abbas is meeting regional leaders on the sidelines.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has toured the region several times since October, is due to arrive for the talks on Monday.

Also speaking at the forum, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al Jadaan said cool-headed leaders “must prevail” amid escalating tensions.

“It is very unfortunate to see loss of lives wherever that is,” said Mr Al Jadaan. “Civilian lives are important, whether it is in Ukraine or in Palestine or elsewhere.

“When you have conflicts of this nature in your region, it puts a lot of pressure on the emotions and the moods and it’s no secret that the economy is impacted by perception.

“I think cool headed countries and leaders and people need to prevail, and you need to make sure that you actually de-escalate.”

The US has said it has not given approval for an Israeli invasion of Rafah, despite claims from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a date has been set for the assault.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Sunday that Israel had agreed to listen to US concerns before it launched an attack.

His comments came as the Israeli military announced that chief of staff Herzi Halevi had approved plans for operations in Gaza after a meeting with senior officers from the army's southern command.

Last week, Israeli media reported an attack on Rafah was likely to begin in the coming days amid the redeployment of reserve troops to the enclave, where more than 34,400 people have been killed since October.

Mr Abbas said while he condemned the October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, Palestinians were being collectively punished for the Hamas assault, which killed about 1,200 people, with another 250 taken hostage.

“Israel took advantage of that attack to retaliate disproportionately against the people of Gaza under the pretext that it wants to take revenge of Hamas,” he told the Riyadh audience. “But in fact, what it is doing is taking revenge from the Palestinian people as a whole.”

Hopes of averting an attack on Rafah could rest on a renewed push for a ceasefire under revised terms that include an initial three-week pause in fighting alongside the release of 20 hostages by Hamas and an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners by Israel.

A Hamas delegation is expected in Egypt on Monday to deliver the group's response to the proposals.

A ceasefire would also help the distribution of humanitarian aid in the enclave, which continues to experience high levels of hunger despite Israel allowing more relief supplies to enter in recent weeks.

On Sunday, the UAE delivered 400 tonnes of food aid for Gaza to Israel’s Ashdod port, working in co-operation with the NGO American Near East Refugee Aid.

Popular opposition to Washington's support for Israel in the war has spread to US college campuses in recent weeks, with student demonstrators demanding the government and university institutions cut ties with Israel.

Gaza solidarity encampments at US campuses inspired similar movements in Europe and most recently Canada, where students at McGill University in Montreal set up tents on Saturday afternoon.

Protests also took place outside the White House Correspondent's Dinner in Washington on Saturday evening over President Joe Biden's continued support for Israel.

Updated: April 28, 2024, 4:19 PM