Prince Faisal similarly decried civilian casualties after meeting with Blinken on Saturday

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has suspended talks on potentially normalising ties with Israel, a source told AFP on Saturday, as the war raged between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Hamas launched a large-scale attack on Israel on October 7 which killed 1,300 people, sparking a retaliatory bombing campaign that has killed at least 2,215 in the Gaza Strip, before a potential Israeli ground invasion of the territory.

“Saudi Arabia has decided to pause discussion on possible normalisation and has informed US officials,” a source familiar with the discussions told AFP. The source spoke the same day US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Riyadh with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, on the latest stop on a six-nation tour of the region.

After that meeting, the Saudi foreign ministry called for “an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and its surroundings” and the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid.

Prince Faisal similarly decried civilian casualties after meeting with Blinken on Saturday. “It’s a disturbing situation. It’s a very difficult situation. And, you know, the primary sufferer of this situation are civilians and civilian populations on both sides are being affected,” he said.

Blinken, for his part, highlighted efforts to establish “safe areas” in Gaza as well as “a corridor so that humanitarian assistance can reach people who need it”. “None of us want to see suffering by civilians on any side, whether it’s in Israel, whether it’s in Gaza, whether it’s anywhere else, and we’re working together to do our best to protect them,” he said.

Blinken also met in Abu Dhabi with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The two men “emphasised the urgent need to open humanitarian corridors to facilitate the delivery of medical and relief aid to the Gaza Strip, in addition to an immediate cessation of hostilities,” according to Emirati state news agency WAM.

Also, Blinken called on China, a partner of Iran, to use its influence to push for calm in the Middle East after Hamas militants struck Israel. The top US diplomat had a “productive” one-hour telephone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “Our message was that he thinks it’s in our shared interest to stop the conflict from spreading,” Miller told reporters on Blinken’s plane from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi. “He thought it could be useful if China could use its influence.”

China has a warm relationship with Iran, whose clerical leadership supports Hamas. Wang for his part said that the United States should “play a constructive and responsible role, pushing the issue back on track for a political settlement as soon as possible,” according to a readout published by the Chinese foreign ministry. “When dealing with international hot-spot issues, major countries must adhere to objectivity and fairness, maintain calmness and restraint, and take the lead in abiding by international law,” said Wang.

The Chinese foreign minister added that Beijing called for “the convening of an international peace meeting as soon as possible to promote the reaching of broad consensus”. “The fundamental outlet for the Palestinian issue lies in implementing a ‘two-state solution’,” said Wang.

In a separate call, Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told Wang that China should use its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to push “for an immediate cessation of military operations” in Gaza, according to the Saudi foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, Iran said it was still possible to prevent a regional spillover of Israel’s war with Islamist group Hamas but warned that time was quickly running out. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke from the Lebanese capital Beirut. “There is still a political opportunity to prevent a widespread crisis in the region,” Amir-Abdollahian told a press conference in Beirut after stops in Baghdad and Damascus.

But “maybe, in the next few hours, it will be too late,” he said, warning that pro-Iran militants “have designed all the scenarios and are prepared, and their finger is on the trigger to shoot.”

During stops in Damascus and Baghdad in the last days, Amir-Abdollahian did not rule out the possibility of an escalation that could draw its regional allies into the Israeli-Hamas war.

In a related development, the European Commission said it will immediately triple humanitarian assistance for Gaza. That’s an extra 50m (£43m) euros in humanitarian aid — for a total of 75m euros.

A senior Israeli official admitted “mistakes” in intelligence assessments ahead of a brutal Hamas attack last weekend that took the country by surprise. “It’s my mistake, and it reflects the mistakes of all those making (intelligence) assessments,” National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told a press briefing when asked about his recent remarks predicting no Hamas aggression. “We really believed that Hamas learned the lesson from” its last major war with Israel in 2021, Hanegbi said. Hanegbi rejected negotiations towards any prisoner swap deal with Hamas.

At the same time the Israeli Defense Forces released a statement a short while ago, saying their forces are preparing to expand their operations on the ground. It said they plan an offensive “involving air, sea, and land” forces, according to this new statement. It also warned Palestinians to get out of the northern Gaza Strip before an expected large-scale ground offensive against Hamas.

One air strike killed Ali Qadi, described as “a company commander of the Hamas Nukhba commando force” involved in the unprecedented attack, the army said.

More than 320 Palestinians have been killed in the past 24 hours, including many women and children killed in Israeli air raids on convoys fleeing Gaza City, according to health officials.

AFP reporters on the outskirts of the southern Israeli city of Sderot saw troops hit northern Gaza with fresh air strikes sending huge plumes of dense black smoke into the sky. As many as 70 people were killed after Israeli airstrikes hit convoys of Palestinian evacuees heading south in Gaza. Also, Israeli shelling killed two Lebanese civilians in the southern village of Shebaa, its mayor told AFP. Some 1.1 million people, nearly half the population of 2.4 million, live in the north of Gaza, and aid agencies have said forcing them to move is an impossibility as the war rages. Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh urged Palestinians to reject “displacement” within the Gaza Strip or out of the blockaded enclave to Egypt, following Israeli air strikes and calls to evacuate. “No to displacement from the (West) Bank, not from Gaza and no to displacement from Gaza to Egypt,” Haniyeh said in a televised speech. He accused Israel of committing “war crimes” in Gaza and blocking the supply of humanitarian aid. Gazans, who cannot leave the enclave as it is blockaded by both Israel and Egypt, have packed what belongings they can into bags and suitcases, to trudge through the rubble-strewn streets. A stream of cars, trucks, three-wheeled vehicles and donkey-drawn carts joined the frantic mass movement south, all loaded with families and their belongings, mattresses, bedding and bags strapped onto the roofs of packed vehicles. Roads in the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long territory were jammed. But putting distance between people and the bombings had not dispelled fear.

Also, Aid agencies, including the UN and Red Cross, plus several foreign diplomats have voiced concern about the feasibility of the evacuation plan. Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said Israel’s order was a “forced transfer” that constitutes “a crime”.

According to the UN, more than 1,300 buildings in Gaza have been destroyed, while local hospitals have become overwhelmed with growing numbers of dead and injured. Hamas has threatened to kill the hostages one by one for every unannounced Israeli air strike.

A total of 22 have already been killed in bombardments, the militant group said, without elaborating.

Egypt and Israel have agreed to let US citizens leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, a US official accompanying Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a regional tour told reporters. But it was not immediately clear when the plan would be implemented.

President Emmanuel Macron has urged Israel and Egypt to open a humanitarian corridor out of the besieged Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing for French nationals, his office said. Macron had held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, his office said. Paris had contacted all those concerned to try to ensure that French nationals could cross out of the southern Gaza Strip and into Egypt and that the crossing could also be used for “humanitarian operations” to Gaza, said the statement.

In another development, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said alongside his counterpart in Cairo said Turkey stands with Egypt in rejecting the exile of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip in the face of Israel’s war with the Hamas militant group.

Meanwhile, Croatian president said Israel has lost my sympathies. In an interview, Zoran Milanovic said he does not sympathise with Israel because of reprisal actions in Gaza and criticised display of Israeli flags in the country.Also, to discuss the war against Palestinians, the OIC has convened “extraordinary meeting” on October 18 in Jeddah.

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