Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and other leaders attend the Cairo international summit for peace in the Middle East in the New Administrative Capital (NAC), east of Cairo, Egypt, Oct. 21, 2023. (The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via Reuters)
Egypt hosted the Cairo Peace Summit to find solutions to the ongoing crisis in Gaza, which is devastated by the indiscriminate Israeli bombardment of civilian infrastructure and a ruthless blockade that prohibits vital supplies like food, fuel and water from entering the besieged enclave.
The summit, held in the New Administrative Capital, east of the Egyptian capital Cairo, has been chaired by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Among the most prominent leaders participating in the summit are Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and Jordanian King Abdullah II.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is also attending the summit.
At least 31 countries and 3 international organizations have confirmed their participation in the Cairo Peace Summit, according to the private Cairo News Channel.
Israel was not represented at the meeting, officially dubbed the “Cairo Summit for Peace.”
Several speakers at the gathering voiced fears the ongoing fighting could devolve into a wider regional war with U.N. Secretary-General Guterres calling for action “to end this terrible nightmare.”
Guterres listed three immediate goals: unhindered humanitarian assistance to besieged civilians in the Gaza Strip, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages kidnapped from Israel, and committed efforts to curb violence to prevent the conflict from escalating.
The conflict could only be solved with a two-state solution, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, he said.In an opening address to the conference, Egyptian President el-Sissi said the aim of the meeting should be “reaching a roadmap to end the current humanitarian tragedy and revive the peace process.” He added that the summit was held during “tough times testing our humanity.”
Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, is worried about a mass exodus of Gazans into its territory.
“Egypt renews rejection of the forced displacement of Palestinians and their exodus to the Egyptian territories because this would liquidate the Palestinian cause,” el-Sissi said in an opening address at the meeting.
“Under no circumstances, will the liquidation of the Palestinian cause happen at Egypt’s expense,” he added.
Palestinian Authority leader Abbas lent his backing to el-Sissi’s position.
“We won’t accept displacement. We’ll remain steadfast on our land whatever the challenges,” he said at the conference.
“We won’t leave. We won’t leave. We won’t leave. We’ll stay in our land,” he added defiantly.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country maintains diplomatic links with Israel, voiced “unequivocal rejection” of the forced displacement of Palestinians.
“This is a war crime according to international law, and a red line for all of us,” he said.
The monarch also called for an “immediate end to the war on Gaza,” protection of civilians, and adoption of a “unified position that indiscriminately condemns targeting of civilians.”
He was sharply critical of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.
“It is collective punishment of a besieged and helpless population It is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. It is a war crime,” he said.
The one-day conference opened shortly after the first trucks carrying humanitarian aid started to move through Egypt’s only border crossing with the Gaza Strip.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said a pause was necessary to protect the lives of the 200 Israelis being held captive by Hamas in Gaza as well as Gaza’s Palestinian civilians.
Spain holds the rotating six-month EU presidency until the end of the year.
Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said at the meeting that “even in times of war, there are rules,” and Palestinian and Israeli civilians are equal and both must be protected.
World leaders and diplomats have rushed to the Middle East after Hamas unleashed a large-scale terrorist attack on Israel, prompting retaliatory airstrikes on the heavily populated Palestinian enclave.
Egypt said on Saturday its invitation to the summit sought to build an “international consensus” to call for an end to the ongoing war “that has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians” on the Palestinian and Israeli sides.
“This consensus also warns of the dangers of the current conflict spreading to other areas of the region,” an Egyptian presidential statement added in English.
Without elaborating, the statement said the conference attendees met “to consult and explore ways to advance efforts toward containing the aggravating crisis” in Gaza and toward military de-escalation.
The conflict in Gaza, under Israeli bombardment and blockade since Oct. 7, began when Hamas initiated Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, a multi-pronged surprise attack that included a barrage of rocket launches and infiltration into Israel by land, sea, and air. It said the incursion was in retaliation for the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and growing violence by Israeli settlers.
The Israeli military then launched Operation Swords of Iron against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.
The death toll in the Gaza Strip due to the ongoing Israeli attacks has climbed to 4,385 including 1,756 children on Saturday, while the figure stands at more than 1,400 people in Israel.
Earlier Saturday, a humanitarian convoy of 20 trucks began to enter the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, the first since the armed conflict broke out between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.