ISLAMABAD – A league of Muslim nations on Sunday demanded that Israel halt attacks killing Palestinian civilians amid heavy fighting between it and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, even as fissures between countries over their recognition of Israel emerged.
A statement by the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) hewed closely to previous ones issued by the Saudi-based group, including backing the decades-old call for Palestinians to have their own nation with East Jerusalem as its capital.
It called for an immediate halt to what it described as Israel’s barbaric attacks on Gaza and blamed “systematic crimes” against the Palestinians for hostilities now in their seventh day. The OIC statement came after a virtual meeting in which Saudi Arabia condemned the violation of the sanctity of Muslim holy sites and evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud opened the OIC meeting by urging the global community to end the escalation in violence and revive peace negotiations based on a two-state solution.
The 57-member body accused the United Nations Security Council of inertia. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei issued a separate statement on Sunday, tweeted by Malaysia’s premier, calling for an emergency UN General Assembly meeting.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates called for a ceasefire. “De-escalation and the highest degree of restraint are important to avoid dragging the region to new levels of instability,” said UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy.
However, recent normalisation deals between Israel and some nations in the group — as well as their own concerns about Hamas — saw diplomats at points instead criticise each other.
“The massacre of Palestinian children today follows the purported normalisation,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. “This criminal and genocidal regime has once again proven that friendly gestures only aggravate its atrocities.”
The past week has seen some of the worst violence across Israel and the Palestinian territory since the 2014 war in Gaza, with militants launching missiles and Israel pounding the blockaded coastal strip home to two million people with heavy fire. At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed.
The OIC statement called on Israel to respect Muslims’ access to Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, as well as stop settlers from forcibly evicting Palestinian families from their homes.
“The plight of the Palestinian people is the bleeding wound of the Islamic world today,” Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said.
But the video conference meeting saw some delegates instead turn their fire toward countries like Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, Muslim nations which reached normalisation deals last year to recognise Israel. While Egypt and Jordan earlier reached peace deals, supporters of the Palestinians criticised the new countries for recognising Israel before the formation of an independent Palestinian state.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu joined Zarif in criticising the normalisation, though Israel maintains diplomatic ties with Ankara.
“There are a few who have lost their moral compass and voiced support for Israel,” he said. “If there are half-hearted statements within our own family, how could we criticise others? Who will take our words seriously?”
FM Cavusoglu also called for an international protection mechanism for Palestinian civilians and told the OIC that Israel should be held accountable for war crimes and that the International Criminal Court could play a role.
Zarif accused Israel of “genocide and crimes against humanity”.
“Make no mistake: Israel only understand the language of resistance and the people of Palestine are fully entitled to their right to defend themselves,” Zarif said.
Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, didn’t take part in the meeting, which came before consultations at the United Nations over the crisis.
Across the Arabian Peninsula, reactions to the fighting similarly have been mixed. In Qatar, home to the Al Jazeera satellite network, hundreds turned out late on Saturday night to listen to a speech by Hamas’ top leader Ismail Haniyeh. Kuwait’s parliament speaker reportedly spoke with Haniyeh on Saturday, as did Qatar’s foreign minister.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain and the UAE, government-linked media hasn’t been covering the current flare-up of violence nonstop like other networks in the region.
There are murmurs of dissent though. In Bahrain, civil society groups signed a letter urging the kingdom to expel the Israeli ambassador. In the UAE, where political parties and protests are illegal, Palestinians have expressed their anger quietly, worried about losing their residency permit. Some Emiratis have also expressed concerns.
“The region’s only democracy,” tweeted the Emirati writer and political analyst Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi in writing about Israel’s strike on a Gaza building that housed the offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.