(Bloomberg) -- Arab leaders dubbed Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza “collective punishment” as they and some European officials stressed that a stable and secure outcome to the Israel-Palestinian conflict must be built on a two-state solution.
The comments Saturday came during the first session of what was billed by Egypt as the Cairo Peace Summit, a gathering that aims to find ways to prevent the Israel-Hamas conflict, now entering its third week, from widening.
Arab presidents and royalty plus top officials from the Middle East, Europe and Asia as well as Canada and Brazil were on hand. The US and Israel weren’t present.
In initial remarks, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi rejected the option of displacing Palestinians from Gaza. Jordan’s King Abdullah assessed that the message Arabs are taking on board, amid a ramped-up Israeli bombing campaign on Gaza, is that Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones.
Read more: Aid Gets to Gaza for First Time Since Israel-Hamas War Began
The Israeli response to the the Oct. 7 attack has killed thousands in Gaza and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. It came in response to the killing by Hamas militants of an estimated 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, with hundreds more Israelis taken hostage and still unaccounted for. Israel’s defense forces are widely expected to launch a ground war in Gaza any day.
Leadership in Israel must realize that continued violence will not bring about peace and that millions of Palestinians can’t remain in the current circumstances, Jordan’s king said.
Saturday’s gathering came as a trickle of aid was allowed through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Some 20 trucks carrying food and medical supplies made it through as Gaza’s sole border with Egypt was opened for the first time since the Oct. 7 attacks.
It’s unclear if anything new will emerge from the meeting to address what many in the region, and in Europe, see as the root cause of the continued violence – the lack of progress on securing an equitable two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
Read more: The US and Israel Weigh a Future for Gaza Without Hamas
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called demands by Palestinians just and legitimate, even as he said that there was nothing that could justify Hamas’s attacks on Israel this month. Both Israelis and Palestinians need to see their legitimate aspirations realized, he said.
For now, Guterres urged a “humanitarian cease-fire” and “action to end this godawful nightmare.”
What’s critical now is “the need to make every effort to move towards a lasting solution, one that must be based on the two-state solution,” EU President Charles Michel told the summit.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the immediate release of hostages taken during the conflict. He emphasized that Palestinians wouldn’t capitulate on their desire for a homeland.
“We will not leave, not leave,” Abbas said. “We will remain on our land.”
While condemning Oct. 7 attacks, meeting participants said the entire Palestinian population in Gaza shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by the EU and the US.
“What we need now is to protect all civilians,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who called for “bold” action without laying out specific steps.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis added that “no military intervention can replace a viable political solution.”
--With assistance from Abdel Latif Wahba and Mirette Magdy.
(Updates with Michel comment in 11th paragraph.)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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