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ConflictsSaudi Arabia

Iranian President Raisi in Saudi Arabia for Gaza summit

November 11, 2023

Ebrahim Raisi is attending an extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh on Gaza, which comes amid reported Arab divisions. The visit is his first to Saudi Arabia since the two countries restored ties in March.

Country leaders pose for a picture during the special Arab leaders' summit to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 11, 2023.
An extraordinary summit of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has been discussing the situation in GazaImage: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to attend a summit on Gaza, making him the first Iranian president to visit the Gulf kingdom in years, after a thaw between the longtime rivals earlier this year saw them restore diplomatic ties.

Raisi was seen greeting Saudi officials after landing at the airport. He donned the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf.

What is Raisi's stance?

Ahead of leaving Tehran, Raisi stressed the importance of the unity of the Islamic countries, saying: "Gaza is not an arena for words. It should be for action."

"The war machine in Gaza belongs to the US," he said before departing for Riyadh. "The US has prevented the cease-fire in Gaza and is expanding the scope of the war."

Iranian news site Tasnim reported that the president would propose at the summit that Muslim countries ban the use of their airspace by Israel. He would also propose preventing the United States from shipping weapons to Israel from military bases in the Middle East, according to the semiofficial Tasnim.

Several Western countries have condemned Tehran for its support of the militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and is designated as a terrorist organization in countries including the United States, Israel and Germany, as well as the European Union.

What else is expected at the summit?

The summit combines a meeting of the Arab League and another of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), originally meant to be held separately. Early on Saturday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced that the two summits would be held as one.

The decisions underscores the importance of reaching "a unified collective position that expresses the common Arab and Islamic will regarding the dangerous and unprecedented developments witnessed in Gaza and the Palestinian territories," the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

On Friday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman condemned "what the Gaza Strip is facing from military assault, targeting of civilians, the violations of international law by the Israeli occupation authorities," in his first public comments on the conflict since its start.

Amid war, Israel's warming ties with Saudi Arabia on hold

Arab divisions over Israel

The summit comes amid reported divisions among the ranks of Arab countries, with a group of countries that normalized ties with Israel in 2020 reportedly rejecting a wider proposal threatening to disrupt oil supplies to Israel and its allies, as well as sever economic and diplomatic ties with Israel.

Few Arab countries have formal ties with Israel. Those that do include Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

In 1973-74, when no such ties existed, Arab oil-producing countries created what came to be known as the "Oil Shock" after imposing an oil embargo in response to the US support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

The embargo led to worldwide skyrocketing energy prices and at times fuel shortages.

rmt/ab (AFP, Reuters)