Arab nations say Israel-Hamas truce should be extended, aid ramped up
The Arab foreign ministers are leading a so-called contact group of mostly Muslim countries which are lobbying Israel's major allies & U.N. Security Council.
Arab foreign ministers welcomed an agreement for a temporary truce between Israel and Gaza militant group Hamas on Wednesday but said it should be extended and become a first step toward a full cessation of hostilities.
The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan told a media briefing in London that the agreement, which includes hostage releases and stepped-up aid into the devastated Gaza Strip, should also ultimately lead to a resumption of talks for a two-state solution to the wider Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Under Wednesday's temporary ceasefire deal, Israel and Hamas agreed to a four-day pause in fighting to allow the release of 50 hostages held in Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, and the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said the humanitarian aid should be sustained and expanded, and it should not become contingent on further hostage releases.
"Whatever humanitarian access now increases as a result of this hostage deal must remain in place and must be built upon," he said.
"There must at no point be a reduction in this access based on progress for further release of hostages ... Punishing the civilian population of Gaza for the holding of those hostages is absolutely not acceptable."
The conflict began on Oct. 7 when Hamas gunmen and other militants burst across the border into Israel, killing 1,200 civilians and Israeli soldiers, and taking about 240 hostages.
Israel responded with a heavy bombardment and then invasion of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 13,000 Palestinians, including at least 5,600 children, according to Gaza's Hamas-run government. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from northern Gaza to the south.
The Arab foreign ministers are leading a so-called contact group of mostly Muslim countries which are lobbying Israel's major allies and the U.N. Security Council to bring about an end to the Gaza war and move towards a permanent solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
After trips to China and Russia, they visited Britain and France on Wednesday where they met the British and French foreign ministers and French President Emmanuel Macron as they seek to push for a U.N. Security Council resolution on humanitarian relief for Gaza.
"We intend to put the Security Council in front of a choice: are they going to be complicit in the starvation and deprivation of the people of Gaza or are they willing to enforce the basic principle that civilians must not be affected by military conflict," Prince Faisal said in his strongest comments on the war to date.
"I must believe that our partners in the West and in the East will take our opinions into consideration. If they don't, that will certainly be an important signal to us as well."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the contact group was pushing to ease a vetting process demanded by Israel that has restricted the amount of aid entering Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
Egypt has said deliveries of relief to Egypt must be scaled up inside Gaza, lobbying hard along with other Arab states against any mass displacement of Palestinians fleeing Israel's offensive.
"Current conditions are dismal. First of all the displacement of those in the north to the south, the volume of people, the lack of shelter, the lack of sanitation, the potential risks of disease spreading," Shoukry said. "All of this ... cannot be a manner to incite further displacement out of Gaza."
The contact group ruled out any Arab security force in Gaza after the war, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said.
"We're not going to clean Israel's mess," he said, adding that any talk about the "day after" in Gaza had to be linked to a broader plan that incorporates the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where he said the possibility of an explosion of conflict was "getting higher every day".
"That has to be a plan with an endgame, with timelines, with a mechanism for implementation, with guarantees, and the whole world has to be behind it and the U.S. will have to play a leading role," Safadi said.