The leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met in Riyadh on Friday, indicating an effort by the two regional heavyweights to put differences to one side and confront the threat of the Israel-Hamas war becoming a wider conflict.
(Bloomberg) — The leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met in Riyadh on Friday, indicating an effort by the two regional heavyweights to put differences to one side and confront the threat of the Israel-Hamas war becoming a wider conflict.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greeted UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed in Riyadh at the airport ahead of talks, their first public encounter in more than three years. Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad is also in the Saudi capital for a broader economic summit between Gulf Arab states and southeast Asian countries.
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The gathering takes place amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by world leaders to try to de-escalate the war between Israel and the Islamist militant group Hamas, which attacked southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing about 1,400 people.
Israel has responded with a total siege of Gaza, which Hamas controls, and hundreds of airstrikes, vowing to destroy the group. About 4,000 people have been left dead by the assault on the densely populated enclave, according to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.
Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union.
A ground invasion of Gaza is expected to follow, likely triggering a public backlash across the Middle East and North Africa and piling pressure on Arab states that have established formal diplomatic deals with Israel in recent years, including the UAE.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and several other Middle Eastern countries have criticized Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and warned it against a ground assault.
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“We affirm our categorical rejection of targeting civilians in any way, and under whatever pretext,” the Saudi crown prince said in opening remarks. He talked of “the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law and halting military operations against civilians and infrastructure.”
Iran and its proxy forces in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen have warned they could retaliate against Israel and its main backer — the US — if it enters Gaza. Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has a massive arsenal of missiles and rockets, has already exchanged fire with the Israeli military several times since Oct. 7.
The Pentagon said on Thursday that one of its destroyers, the USS Carney, intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen. It said the missiles were headed north over the Red Sea and in the direction of Israel — but the US was “still assessing” the target.
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Saudi Arabia and the UAE have deep economic, business and cultural ties, and are key partners in the OPEC+ oil cartel. Still, ties between the crown prince, known as MBS, and the UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed, widely called MBZ, have been frayed by disagreements over their involvement in Yemen’s civil war and how to handle Iranian aggression in the region.
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