Cairo Peace Summit: Arab leaders urge halting Gaza war but European officials want Israel to 'defend' itself

Amr Kandil , Saturday 21 Oct 2023

While leaders of the Arab countries at the Cairo Summit for Peace have focused on the need to halt the war in Gaza and return to negotiations, most of the European officials in attendance were more keen on condemning Hamas for its 7th of October attack inside Israel and defending Israel's "right to self-defense."

This handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egypt s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi (C) flanked by regional and some Western leaders, posing for a family picture during the International Peace Summit in Cairo on October 21, 2023. AFP

These differences between the Arab and European delegations hindered the issuance of a final communique for the summit.

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had said the summit would propose a roadmap to end the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza and revive the path for peace.

​Sources told Ahram Online that a communique have not been issued as the European leaders have demanded a clear condemnation of Hamas and a recognition of Israel’s right to self-defense.

In TV remarks, Egyptian Presidential Spokesman Ahmed Fahmy said the summit has achieved its goal in “increasing areas of understanding” among the participating countries.

Fahmy added that the countries attending the summit expressed similar views on various topics, including the need to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.

They disagreed, however, on “the level of condemnations” and the call for ceasefire, he noted.

“Some [leaders] want to condemn only one party and one action on a particular day as if the narrative started on that day,” Fahmy said.

Unlike Egypt and many other countries that call for immediate ceasefire and de-escalation, some other countries advocated for the Israeli right to self-defense, he added.

Leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Cyprus as well as the European Council have condemned Hamas’s attack as “terrorist” during their participation in the summit.

Meanwhile, they viewed the Israeli strikes that killed more than 4,000 civilians, more than half of whom are children, in the context of Israel’s right to defend itself as per international law.

During the summit, the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine rejected targeting civilians and called for the cessation of the military operations in the strip.


Jordan’s King Abdullah II denounced global silence amid the Israeli bombing of the strip and the policies of collective punishment practiced against Palestinian civilians.

“The message that was heard loud and clear in the Arab world is that the lives of Palestinians are considered less important than the lives of Israelis,” the Jordanian king said during the summit.

In a statement after the summit, the Egyptian Presidency said the ongoing war has disclosed a “shortcoming” in the values of the international community in addressing crises.

“While we see a rush and competition to promptly condemn the killing of innocent people in a place, we find incomprehensible hesitation in denouncing the same act in another place,” the Presidency said.

Egypt will spare no effort in continuing to work with all partners to achieve the goals for which this summit was held, regardless of the difficulties or the duration of the conflict, the Presidency added.

In his opening speech at the summit, El-Sisi reiterated his call for providing protection to Palestinians, asking, "Where is the equality between human lives without discrimination or double standards?"

Hamas terrorism, Israeli self-defense

In a speech at the summit, France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna described Hamas as terrorist, saying that the Islamist movement seeks to destroy the state of Israel and spread chaos rather than fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians.

She described Hamas’s attack as “barbaric,” highlighting the Israeli “right to self-defense” to ensure that similar attacks by Hamas do not occur in the future.

While Israel has the right to respond to the attack and protect Israeli civilians, they also have to ensure protection for Palestinian civilians in Gaza, Colonna said.

She asserted that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people or their cause, stressing that condemning Hamas is the best way to make the Palestinian peoples’ voices heard.

‘Greatest possible’ humanitarian considerations

Similarly, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock blamed Hamas for the attacks and stressed Israel’s right to defend itself and protect its people against terrorism.

“The cause of all the suffering of these past weeks, and the same suffering that brings us here today, the suffering endured by little girls, mothers, and families, all this suffering does have a name. It is called Hamas,” Baerbock said.

She noted, however, that the fight against Hamas need to be carried out with the “greatest possible” consideration for the humanitarian situation of the innocent men, women, and children in Gaza.

“There is no doubt that all civilian lives matter just the same,” Baerbock asserted.

Restraint from Israeli military

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he called for restraint from the Israeli military “despite the incredibly difficult circumstances.”

He condemned Hamas’s attack on Israel as terrorist and underscored Israel’s right to self-defense.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni claimed that the Arab countries, Israel, and the West are all “targets” for Hamas.

Meloni added that through its latest attack, Hamas planned “to force Israel to react against Gaza, which would create an unbridgeable furrow between Arab countries, Israel, and the West and compromise peace for all the people involved.”

In a side meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Meloni defended Israel’s right to “exist and defend itself.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also defended Israel’s right to self-defense in accordance with international law, but affirmed that policies of collective punishment are also prohibited under the same law.

Mitsotakis condemned Hamas’s attack, calling for freeing captives held by Hamas. “No peace can be discussed until they (the captives) are free,” he said.

He deplored the loss of civilian lives in Israel and Gaza, shedding light on the Israeli targeting of Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday, which killed more than 500 people.

“Civilians [were] killed and wounded in horrible conditions, brutally assassinated in their homes in Israel, and in Al-Ahli Hospital,” Mitsotakis said without blaming the hospital attack on Israel.

Spain, Norway highlight peace

While European leaders tended to make references to the two-state solution as the basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Spain and Norway focused on that topic, calling for the international community to exert further efforts to achieve peace.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called for offering Palestinians and Israelis a “credible prospect for peace” to resolve the conflict in accordance with the two-state solution.

Sánchez called on the international community to seize every opportunity to promote dialogue and peace between the two sides.

“For too many years, the international community thought we could live without paying too much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recent events have proved the falsity of such a presumption. Today we cannot postpone a solution,” he stated.


For his part, Norway’s Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide reiterated condemnation for Hamas’s attack, the full siege of Gaza, and the loss of civilians lives in both sides.

Eide called for peace talks to resume to reach the two-state solution for the benefit of the Palestinians, the Israelis, and all other parties.

“I think that the time has come, as we remove the rubble of this terrible crisis and as we have hopefully managed to deter a further escalation, to go back to the table,” he said.

“We need to allow ourselves to think outside of the box, not on where we want to go, which is a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis, but how we do it, how we approach it,” Eide noted.

He said that Save the Children has noted that a child dies every quarter of an hour in Gaza under the ongoing strikes. “This cannot go on,” Eide stressed.

European leaders have agreed during the summit on the need for “immediate and unconditional” release of hostages held by Hamas. They also agreed on holding a humanitarian truce and expressed fears about the possibility of the crisis turning into a regional or global tragedy.

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