DOHA/DUBAI, (Reuters) – Hamas, Syria and Iran led calls on Friday for Muslim and Arab countries to cut all ties with Israel over its three-week-old offensive on Gaza, and al Jazeera said Qatar and Mauritania would suspend relations.
Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s leader in exile, told the opening session of an emergency conference on Gaza his group would not accept Israeli conditions for a truce and would fight until the offensive that has killed over 1,100 Palestinians ended. “Despite all the destruction in Gaza, I assure you: we will not accept Israel’s conditions for a ceasefire,” Meshaal said.
The Qatar conference clashed with another meeting, of Arab foreign ministers in Kuwait, that also discussed the offensive which has shown up deep splits in the Arab world over Gaza.
The foreign ministers drafted a set of resolutions including the creation of a $2 billion fund to rebuild Gaza, a pledge of support for the Palestinian Authority, and backing for Egyptian efforts to mediate a ceasefire in Gaza.
Qatar had proposed hosting a special Arab summit on Gaza, but regional powers Egypt and Saudi Arabia said they preferred to discuss Gaza at a planned economic summit in Kuwait on Monday, where they will discuss the Arab ministers’ resolutions.
Doha failed to secure the quorum of 15 required for a formal Arab League summit, but political maverick Qatar went ahead with a consultative meeting including senior non-Arab participants.
Calls at the opening session were among the strongest yet for Muslim and Arab leaders to take action to punish Israel for civilian suffering that has provoked global demonstrations.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose country has been engaged in indirect peace talks with Israel, said an Arab peace initiative was “dead” and urged Arab states to end all “direct and indirect” ties with the Jewish state. “I consider the Arab initiative with Israel “dead”, he said.
In Nouakchott, Mauritania said it had frozen political and economic ties with Israel following the recall of its ambassador for consultations last week in protest at the Gaza offensive. “This is a step short of a full severing of diplomatic ties,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Baba Sidi Abdallah told Reuters. “This decision is linked to the situation on the ground in Gaza. If that continues, we could break off ties.”
Adding to the confusion, Saudi Arabia called a summit of Gulf Arab leaders on Gaza late on Thursday, in an apparent bid to pre-empt Qatar’s diplomatic efforts.
“The Arab situation has been very chaotic and this is regrettable,” Arab League chief Amr Moussa said in Kuwait.
At the morning session, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called for more support for Egyptian efforts to mediate a ceasefire and increased diplomatic pressure on Israel to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an end to the violence in Gaza.
Hamas officials said they would head to Cairo for truce talks after the Qatar meeting.
Kuwait had scheduled the foreign ministers’ meeting before Israel’s Gaza offensive, but Qatar felt the severity of the situation required an earlier meeting at leaders’ level.
Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose country has low-level ties with Israel and ties to Hamas, said the Doha summit would review diplomatic and economic ties to Israel.
Qatari officials were not immediately able to confirm an al Jazeera report that Qatar would cut its ties with Israel.
Sheikh Hamad also pledged $250 million to rebuild Gaza and said the talks would raise the possibility of suspending an Arab peace initiative, though any move on that front needs a quorum.
The flurry of rival Arab meetings reflects the Arab divide between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and their allies on one side, and Syria, Qatar and their allies on the other.
Syria and Qatar, which recently patched up once-frosty ties with its Saudi neighbour, are more sympathetic to Hamas, which won a 2006 election and has ruled Gaza since 2007, after routing fighters from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group.
Egypt, Gaza’s only Arab neighbour, said it will not open the border for normal traffic without the presence of Abbas’ forces. It has faced criticism for cooperating with Israel’s blockade.
With bloody images of Palestinian casualties plastered across Arab television screens for the past 21 days, public demands have grown for Arab leaders to take a stronger stand.