Saudi Arabia pauses talks aimed at normalising ties with Israel

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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia pauses talks aimed at normalising ties with Israel. As Israel and Hamas battle for control of Gaza, Saudi Arabia has suspended talks on possibly normalizing relations with Israel, a source told AFP.

Following Hamas’ large-scale attack on Israel on October 7, which killed 1,300 people, retaliatory bombings in the Gaza Strip have killed at least 2,215 people, leading to a potential Israeli ground invasion.

“Saudi Arabia has decided to pause discussions on possible normalisation,” a source familiar with the discussions told AFP. On the latest stop on a six-nation tour of the region, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, in Riyadh. 

In response to that meeting, the Saudi foreign ministry called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and its surroundings, as well as the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In his meeting with Blinken on Saturday, Prince Faisal described civilian casualties in a similar manner. This is a disturbing situation. There are a lot of challenges involved. It’s civilians on both sides who are suffering the most in this situation,” he said.

According to Blinken, humanitarian assistance can reach Gazans in need by establishing “safe areas” and “corridors”. “None of us wants to see civilians suffer, whether in Israel, Gaza, or anywhere else. We’re working together to protect them,” he said.

A meeting between Blinken and the UAE president Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was also held in Abu Dhabi. The two men “emphasized the urgent need for humanitarian corridors to facilitate the delivery of medical and relief aid to Gaza, as well as an immediate cessation of hostilities,” according to Emirati state news agency WAM.

In addition, Blinken urged China, a partner of Iran, to use its influence to promote calm in the Middle East after Hamas militants attacked Israel. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the top US diplomat spoke for one hour with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Miller told reporters on Blinken’s plane from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi that he believes it’s in our shared interest to stop the conflict from spreading. He thought China’s influence could be useful.

A warm relationship exists between China and Iran, whose clerical leadership supports Hamas. According to a readout published by the Chinese foreign ministry, Wang urged the United States to “play a constructive and responsible role” in pushing the issue toward a political settlement as soon as possible. According to Wang, major countries must adhere to objectivity and fairness when dealing with international hot-spot issues, maintain calm and restraint, and comply with international law.

China called for “the convening of an international peace meeting as soon as possible to promote broad consensus”. The ‘two-state solution’ is the fundamental solution to the Palestinian issue, said Wang.

Separately, Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told Wang that China should use its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to push “for an immediate end to military operations” in Gaza.

It is still possible to prevent a regional spillover of Israel’s war with Hamas, but time is running out. The Lebanese capital Beirut served as the venue for Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s speech. Amir-Abdollahian, who visited Baghdad and Damascus, told a press conference in Beirut that preventing a regional crisis remains a political opportunity.

In the coming hours, it may be too late, he said, warning pro-Iran militants “have designed all the scenarios and are prepared, and their fingers are on the trigger.”

Amir-Abdollahian, during stops in Damascus and Baghdad in recent days, did not rule out the possibility of an escalation that could draw regional allies into the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

A related development is the announcement by the European Commission that it will immediately triple humanitarian assistance to Gaza. A total of 75 million euros will be provided in humanitarian aid – an additional 50 million euros (£43 million).

Prior to a brutal Hamas attack last weekend, a senior Israeli official admitted “mistakes” in intelligence assessments. Asked about his recent remarks predicting no Hamas aggression, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said, “It’s my mistake, and it’s reflected in the mistakes of everyone making (intelligence) assessments.” Hanegbi expressed hope that Hamas had learned from its last major war with Israel in 2021. Hamas and Hanegbi rejected any prisoner swap deal.

Earlier this week, the Israeli Defense Forces released a statement stating that they are preparing to expand their ground operations. According to this new statement, they are planning an offensive “involving air, sea, and land” forces. Furthermore, it warned Palestinians to leave the northern Gaza Strip ahead of a large-scale ground offensive against Hamas.

According to the army, an air strike killed Ali Qadi, a commander of Hamas Nukhba commandos involved in the unprecedented attack.

Health officials report that more than 320 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air raids on convoys fleeing Gaza City in the past 24 hours, including many women and children.

AFP reporters on the outskirts of Sderot, a southern Israeli city, saw troops strike northern Gaza with fresh air strikes. Israeli airstrikes struck convoys of Palestinian evacuees heading south in Gaza, killing up to 70 people. Two Lebanese civilians were also killed by Israeli shelling in Shebaa, its mayor told AFP. Nearly half of Gaza’s 2.4 million residents live in the north, and aid agencies say that forcing them to move is impossible. Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh urged Palestinians to reject “displacement” within the Gaza Strip or out of the blockaded enclave to Egypt, following Israeli air strikes and calls to evacuate. “No to displacement from the (West) Bank, not from Gaza and no to displacement from Gaza to Egypt,” Haniyeh said in a televised speech. He accused Israel of committing “war crimes” in Gaza and blocking humanitarian aid supply. In the rubble-strewn streets of Gaza, Gazans have packed what belongings they can into bags and suitcases, unable to leave the enclave as Israel and Egypt blockade it. The frantic mass movement south was joined by cars, trucks, three-wheeled vehicles, and donkey-drawn carts all loaded with families and their belongings, mattresses, bedding, and bags strapped to their roofs. A 40-kilometre (25-mile) long area was blocked by traffic. Putting distance between people and the bombings had not dispelled fear.

The UN and Red Cross, as well as several foreign diplomats, have expressed concern about the evacuation plan. In a statement, Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said Israel’s order constituted a “crime”.

More than 1,300 buildings have been destroyed in Gaza, while local hospitals are overwhelmed with injured and dead patients. For every unannounced Israeli air strike, Hamas has threatened to kill the hostages one by one.

According to the militant group, 22 people have already been killed in bombardments.

A US official accompanying Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a regional tour told reporters that Egypt and Israel have agreed to let US citizens leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing. However, it was unclear when the plan would be implemented.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Israel and Egypt to open a humanitarian corridor out of besieged Gaza via the Rafah crossing for French nationals. According to his office, Macron spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. According to the statement, Paris had contacted all those concerned to ensure that French citizens could cross from the southern Gaza Strip into Egypt and that the crossing could also be used for “humanitarian operations” in Gaza.

Additionally, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said that Turkey stands with Egypt in rejecting the exile of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas.

In the meantime, the Croatian president said that Israel has lost my sympathies. During an interview, Zoran Milanovic criticised the display of Israeli flags in the country due to reprisal actions in Gaza. The OIC has also convened an “extraordinary meeting” in Jeddah on October 18 to discuss the war against Palestinians.

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