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AL calls for UN peacekeepers in Gaza

At summit, leaders urge intl community to assume responsibilities for peace

By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-18 07:04
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Displaced Palestinians walk around a puddle in front of destroyed buildings and tents in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The 33rd Arab Summit has concluded with a "Bahrain Declaration" that called for international protection and deployment of United Nations peacekeeping forces in the occupied Palestinian territories until implementation of the two-state solution.

Leaders of the 22-member Arab League called on Thursday for an immediate halt to Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, lifting of the siege, removal of all obstacles, and opening of all crossings to ensure the entry of adequate humanitarian aid into the Palestinian enclave.

It condemned Israeli control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing to tighten the siege on civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The declaration supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' call to convene an international peace conference and take irreversible steps to implement the two-state solution.

It came as Israel vowed on Thursday to "intensify" its ground offensive in Rafah, in defiance of global warnings over the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians sheltering in Gaza's far-southern city.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said "additional forces will enter" the Rafah area and "this activity will intensify".

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, said in a news release on Thursday that Rafah has "emptied of at least 600,000 people in just the last week" and that another 100,000 have been uprooted from the north of the enclave as the Israeli military announced evacuation orders.

UNRWA said families "keep fleeing where they can, including to rubble and sand dunes", in search of safety, but that "there's no such thing in Gaza".

The conflict broke out after the Hamas attack on Oct 7 on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people.

Israel then launched a military offensive on Gaza, where at least 35,303 people have been killed.

'Exceptional' declaration

The Bahrain Declaration and meeting in the Bahraini capital Manama had been hailed as significant and "exceptional" by experts, especially given that Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco had normalized ties with Israel through the United States-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020.

"We stress the need for Israel, the occupying power, to cease all its illegal actions that violate the rights of the Palestinian people and undermine the two-state solution and the prospects for a just and comprehensive peace in the region, including the construction and expansion of settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the displacement of Palestinians from their homes," the declaration read.

Jasim Husain, a Gulf analyst and former member of Bahrain's parliament, told China Daily that the summit was "exceptional" and that it was historic for many leaders, including the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "to be in the same area".

"The main outcome of the conference is the call for an international conference on Palestine in order to declare two-state solution. A Palestinian state (existing) alongside Israel," said Husain, noting that there were "no endorsement and no threats of breaking ties with Israel".

Another "outstanding" point was the speech by Abbas, who told the summit that Hamas' "unilateral decision" to launch the Oct 7 attack had "provided Israel with more pretexts and justifications to attack the Gaza Strip", Husain noted.

The Arab leaders also called on the international community to fulfill its legal obligations and take decisive measures to end the Israeli occupation of the Arab territories.

Rasha Al Joundy, a senior researcher at the Dubai Public Policy Research Centre, told China Daily that Arab leaders are urging the international community to assume its responsibilities to advance the peace process.

While noting that the UN Security Council is being "paralyzed by vetoes from the US", Al Joundy said Arab states want to "use their relationship with Israel to send aid to Gaza, and keep the channels open with Tel Aviv to mediate and send messages to the political leadership there".

Xinhua and agencies contributed to this story.

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