President Biden said that he believed Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel two weeks ago was aimed at disrupting warming ties between the country and Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden said Friday that he believed Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel two weeks ago was aimed at disrupting warming ties between the country and Saudi Arabia.

“One of the reasons why they acted like they did… why Hamas moved on Israel… (was) because they knew I was about to sit down with the Saudis,” Biden told guests at a campaign fundraiser.

“The Saudis wanted to recognize Israel… unite the Middle East,” he said.

Momentum toward a landmark US-brokered deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites, was shattered by the October 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel.

The Islamist group stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, taking more than 200 hostages and killing at least 1,400 people on the first day of the raid, according to Israeli officials. Israel has since vowed to destroy Hamas, and says around 1,500 of the group’s fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area initially under attack. A bombing campaign launched in response has levelled entire city blocks in Gaza, so far killing 4,137 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Saudi officials announced on October 14 during a visit to Riyadh by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the country had suspended talks with Israel on normalization of relations. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had spoken of progress with Israel but also insisted on movement on the Palestinian cause.

In a related development, the first aid trucks arrived in war-torn Gaza from Egypt on Saturday, bringing urgent humanitarian relief to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave suffering what the UN chief labelled a “godawful nightmare”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said the 20 trucks admitted so far fell far short of the needs of Gazans, more than one million of whom have been forced from their homes. “Much more” aid needs to be sent, Guterres told a peace summit in Egypt on Saturday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the aid and urged “all parties” to keep the Rafah crossing open.

But a Hamas spokesman said “even dozens” of such convoys could not meet Gaza’s requirements, especially as no fuel was being allowed in to help distribute the supplies to those in need.

As international tensions soar, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was hosting a peace summit in Cairo on Saturday attended by regional and some Western leaders. “The time has come for action to end this godawful nightmare,” Guterres told the summit, calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire”.

The region “is reeling in pain and one step from the precipice”, he said.

Guterres said “the grievances of the Palestinian people are legitimate and long” after “56 years of occupation with no end in sight”. But he stressed that “nothing can justify the reprehensible assault by Hamas that terrorised Israeli civilians”.

“Those abhorrent attacks can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” he added.

According to Arab diplomats who spoke with AFP on condition of anonymity, the meeting broke up without a joint statement, highlighting the gulf between Arab and Western countries on how best to bring lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Western delegates demanded “a clear condemnation placing responsibility for the escalation on Hamas” but Arab leaders refused, the diplomats said.

Instead the Egyptian hosts released a statement — drafted with the approval of Arab delegates — criticising world leaders for seeking to “manage the conflict and not end it permanently”.

The statement said such “temporary solutions and palliatives… do not live up to even the lowest aspirations” of the Palestinian people.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II called for “an immediate end to the war on Gaza” and condemned “global silence” on Palestinian death and suffering.

“The message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear: Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones. Our lives matter less than other lives,” he charged. “The application of international law is optional. And human rights have boundaries — they stop at borders, they stop at races, and they stop at religions.”

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi argued that the “only solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “justice” and said that “Palestinians must realise their legitimate rights to self-determination” and have “an independent state on their land”.

Turkey’s foreign minister Hakan Fidan urged for the current conflict to become, “rather than a regional conflagration, a breeding ground for a just and lasting peace”. He also condemned “unconditional military aid to Israel which only serves to maintain the occupation”, while Saudi Arabia´s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan condemned the failure of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire after a US veto.

Meanwhile, a military spokesman told a press conference on Saturday Israel is to immediately step up its strikes in Gaza to increase pressure on Hamas. “We have to enter the next phase of the war in the best conditions, not according to what anyone tells us. From today, we are increasing the strikes and minimising the danger,” spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari told a press conference.

A full-blown Israeli ground offensive of Gaza carries many risks, including to the hostages Hamas took and whose fate is shrouded in uncertainty.

So the release of two Americans among the hostages — mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan — offered a rare “sliver of hope”, said Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Natalie Raanan’s half-brother Ben told the BBC he felt an “overwhelming sense of joy” at the release after “the most horrible of ordeals”.

Hamas said Egypt and Qatar had negotiated the release and that it was “working with all mediators to implement the movement’s decision to close the civilian (hostage) file if appropriate security conditions allow”. Traumatised families with loved ones missing in Gaza demanded more action.

“We ask humanity to interfere and bring back all those young boys, young girls, mothers, babies,” Assaf Shem Tov, whose nephew was abducted from a music festival where Hamas killed hundreds, said Friday.

Almost half of Gaza’s residents have been displaced, and at least 30 percent of all housing in the territory has been destroyed or damaged, the United Nations says.

Thousands have taken refuge in a camp set up in the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

In Al-Zahra in central Gaza, Rami Abu Wazna was struggling to take in the destruction wreaked by Israeli missile strikes. “Even in my worst nightmares, I never thought this could be possible,” he said. Hezbollah number two Naim Qassem warned: “If something comes up that calls for greater intervention by us, we will do so.” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant retorted: “Hezbollah has decided to participate in the fighting, and is paying a price for it.” Violence has also flared in the West Bank, where 84 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

 

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