Bahrain calls for Mideast peace conference at Manama summit

AFP , Ahram Online , Thursday 16 May 2024

The Kingdom of Bahrain, the host of the Arab summit in Manama, has called at the start of the Arab League summit on Thursday for a Middle East peace conference to resolve the crisis in Gaza and put an end to Israel's war on Gaza, which remains unabated without a ceasefire in sight.

Arab League
File photo: National banners of the Arab League countries at the site of the 29th Arab Summit in Dhahran. AFP


King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was addressing fellow heads of state and government at the 22-strong grouping in the capital Manama, more than seven months into Israel's war that has convulsed the region.

"(We) call for an international conference for peace in the Middle East, in addition to supporting full recognition of the State of Palestine and accepting its membership in the United Nations," said the king.

It is the first time the bloc has come together since an extraordinary summit in Riyadh, the capital of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, in November 2023. Arab leaders attended that summit alongside leaders from the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (based in the Saudi city of Jeddah).

At that meeting, leaders condemned Israeli forces' "barbaric" actions in Gaza. Still, they declined to approve punitive economic and political steps against the country, despite growing anger in the region and widespread support for the Palestinian cause.

That could change this time around as backing builds globally for a two-state solution long advocated by Arab countries, said Kuwaiti analyst Zafer al-Ajmi.

Western public opinion has become "more inclined to support the Palestinians and lift the injustice inflicted on them" since Israel's creation more than 70 years ago, Ajmi said.

Meanwhile, Israel has failed to achieve its war objectives including destroying Hamas and is now mired in fighting, he said.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 35,272 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.

Bahrain statement

A statement released by the kingdom stressed the need to stop the "Israeli aggression" against Palestinians in Gaza and called for the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from "all areas of the Strip."

The Bahrain statement also demanded that Israel lift its siege on Gaza, remove all obstacles to the entry of humanitarian aid, and open all crossings into the Palestinian territory while allowing the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, "to carry out its responsibilities freely and safely."

Along these lines, the Bahrain statement called for an "immediate and permanent ceasefire" in the Gaza Strip to protect civilians and to allow for the release of captives and detainees on both sides.

The statement also underscored the Arab League's categorical rejection of any attempts "to forcibly displace the Palestinian people in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, and East Jerusalem from their land."

Bahrain also condemned Israel's control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, describing it as "Gaza’s main lifeline," and called on Israel to withdraw from Rafah to allow safe access to humanitarian aid.

Change of 'tone'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that nearly 500,000 people had been evacuated from the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where he is adamant about sending in troops.

Netanyahu's plans to invade the border city come despite objections from US President Joe Biden and much of the international community, which remains squarely opposed to a Rafah invasion.

Against that backdrop, and with mediator Qatar describing talks on a truce and captive release deal as close to a stalemate, "the tone of Arab countries has changed", Ajmi said, raising the possibility that the final declaration out of Thursday's summit could include "binding" measures.

The message would be significantly stronger coming from a summit held in Bahrain, one of two Gulf countries along with the United Arab Emirates to normalise ties with Israel in 2020 under the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

Beyond Israel's war on Gaza, Arab leaders are also expected to discuss conflicts in Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Syria, whose President Bashar al-Assad is due to attend after returning to the Arab fold last year.

Attacks by Yemen's Houthis on Red Sea shipping could also be on the agenda, said Bahraini analyst and journalist Mahmeed al-Mahmeed.

Bahrain joined a maritime coalition organised by Washington to counter the Houthi offensive pressing Israel to halt its war and establish a ceasefire in Gaza.

"These vital sea lanes are not only important for countries in the region, but also for the global economy," Mahmeed said.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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