RIYADH (AFP) – Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the Middle East, warned that Israel’s devastating assaults on Gaza and Lebanon could spark regional war as it announced huge aid packages.
The oil-rich kingdom pledged one billion dollars to support Lebanon’s battered currency, 500 million dollars to fund reconstruction of its shattered infrastructure and 50 million dollars in immediate relief for its citizens.
They also promised 250 million dollars for reconstruction in the Palestinian territories, reeling under a Western aid boycott of the Hamas-led government as well as the offensive on Gaza which began almost a month ago.
A statement issued by the royal court demanded a halt to the “killing and destruction” by the Israeli military, warning that its determination to press ahead with its twin offensives risked plunging the whole region into war.
“(Saudi Arabia) warns everyone that if the option of peace fails due to Israel’s arrogance there will be no other option but war,” it said.
“Then, only God would know what wars and conflicts the region would see, which would harm everyone, even those prompted now by their military power to play with fire.”
The statement said the Saudi authorities had made every effort to “mobilize the international community to force Israel to accept a ceasefire.”
“Patience cannot last for ever. If the savage Israeli military continues its killing and destruction, no one can foresee what might happen.”
The strongly worded communique from the palace marked a significant toughening of the Saudi position on the Israeli offensives, two weeks old in Lebanon and a month old in Gaza.
The pro-Western kingdom had drawn criticism in the Arab world for criticising the “adventurism” of Shiite militant group Hezbollah, whose July 12 capture of two soldiers sparked the Israeli offensive in Lebanon, in its official media.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal held London talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair ahead of a visit to Washington.
“I think we both agree that the real solution is to have Lebanon come back to its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
“For that to happen there must be a first step, which is a ceasefire to stop the bombing that is happening.”
Asked what he thought of the British support for the US position on the conflict, he replied: “I hope the support will be for the Lebanese people in the Lebanon. This is what we are urging.
“The crisis is Lebanon’s crisis, not Britain’s or Saudi Arabia’s or America’s crisis.”
As world leaders began gathering for an international conference on the crisis in Rome, King Abdullah held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to coordinate the two pro-Western governments’ positions.
“Saudi Arabia and Egypt will make a forceful call for a ceasefire first and for agreement on an international initiative to resolve pending problems during the Rome conference on Wednesday,” an Egyptian diplomatic source told AFP after the meeting.
The two leaders “agreed that the continuation of Israeli military operations in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories threatens to trigger an explosion in the region and ignite multiple wars in it,” the source added.
The Saudi authorities said the reconstruction money given to Lebanon and the Palestinians would be the “nucleus for an Arab fund” that other regional governments could contribute to.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said the deposit of one billion dollars with the central bank was to “strengthen reserves in a bid to back the government’s efforts to consolidate the stability of the national currency.”
He said Saudi individuals and institutions, both public and private, had also made significant donations.
Saudi Arabia sits on a quarter of world proven oil reserves and posted a record budget surplus of 57 billion dollars in 2005 on the back of surging crude prices.