Leaders and top officials from more than a dozen countries have gathered at a conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to discuss ways to “escalate” the Israel-Hamas war amid growing fears of a wider Middle East conflict.
Called the Cairo Peace Summit, representatives from countries including Jordan, France, Germany, Russia, China, the UK, the US, Qatar and South Africa attends A one-day meeting on Saturday with UN and EU officials.
In his opening speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on leaders to agree on a road map to end the humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip and renew the path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He said the roadmap’s goals include providing aid to Gaza and agreeing to a ceasefire, followed by negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
“All civilian lives matter,” Jordan’s King Abdullah told the summit. “The relentless bombing campaign in Gaza as we speak is brutal and unconscionable on every level. It is the collective punishment of a besieged and helpless people. This is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. It is a war crime.”
“Anywhere else, attacking civilian infrastructure and deliberately starving entire populations of food, water, electricity and basic necessities would be condemned. Accountability would be enforced… but not in Gaza,” he added.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the summit and asked for the opening of humanitarian corridors. But the absence of any official from the Israeli side has dampened expectations of what the summit could achieve.
Al Jazeera’s diplomacy editor James Pace said that while it would be good for these countries to propose a road map out of the crisis, “Is Israel going to listen to that road map?”
“Israel is not represented. The Israeli generals and the Israeli prime minister and the Israeli war cabinet have decisions about what to do militarily, and you see talks of new bombing of Gaza going on,” Baez noted.
The summit comes as Israel begins a ground offensive on Gaza after weeks of airstrikes following an October 7 attack by Hamas in Israel that killed 1,400 people. Israel’s counter-offensive has killed more than 4,200 Palestinians, amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Egypt called for an international conference last week to discuss “developments and the future of the Palestinian cause”. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shogri said the meeting would seek “international consensus” on the need for humanitarian aid and expansion to the Gaza Strip.
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, an access point not controlled by Israel, was closed for nearly two weeks amid Israeli bombardment, but reopened on Saturday to allow only 20 aid trucks.
Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, is concerned about the mass exodus of Palestinians into its territory.
President El-Sisi said on Wednesday that millions of Egyptians would oppose the forced relocation of Palestinians into the Sinai, saying such a move would make the Egyptian peninsula a staging ground for attacks against Israel.
During the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948, Egypt’s position reflects Arab fears that Palestinians could again be forced to flee or be forced from their homes.
Arab nations have expressed anger over Israel’s unprecedented bombing and blockade of Gaza, home to 2.3 million people.
Mark Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle East studies at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha, said there was “a great deal of political grandstanding” in the opening statements of Arab leaders at the Cairo summit. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“A lot of it is about the domestic legitimacy of these leaders, especially because El-Sisi is worried about people getting appeased if they don’t see him doing anything for the Palestinian cause,” he told Al Jazeera.
Despite the “showboating”, Owen Jones said the impact of the summit on developments on the ground would be minimal.
He said the “realistic practical results” would be “at most a ceasefire and, at the very least, a little more humanitarian aid”.
“Without Israel at the table, I can’t see that there would be enough political leverage here to stop Israel’s bombing of Gaza.”
Clashes along Israel’s border with Lebanon and attacks elsewhere by Iranian-backed forces have fueled fears of an outbreak, especially if a ground offensive proves bloody, while anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic persecution around the world has raised security concerns in many countries. .
After days of confusion and mixed messages, European nations are struggling to settle on a united approach to the crisis that goes beyond condemning Hamas’ attacks.