DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The Organization for Islamic Cooperation, made up of 57 countries, on Sunday opened an emergency meeting on the heavy fighting between Israel and militant Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, the first major movement among Middle Eastern countries still grappling with conflict.
While the Arab League and organizations like the Saudi-based OIC have maintained their view that the Palestinians should have their own independent state, Israel recently entered into recognition agreements with several of its members. This, along with the concerns of some nations about Hamas, has seen a somewhat muted response to the attacks as opposed to the unqualified response of decades past.
“The plight of the Palestinian people is the bloody wound of the Islamic world today,” said Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki of the Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, denounced what he called Israel’s “cowardly attacks” at the start of the meeting.
“We must tell Allah that we will resist until the last day,” he said. “We are facing a long term occupation. this is the root of the problem. Crimes are committed against Palestinians without consequences. “
However, the Palestinian Authority in Malki has no control over Hamas and the Gaza Strip, where militants seized power in 2007.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has taken such a hard line.
“Israel alone is responsible for the recent escalation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” Cavusoglu said. “Our warnings to Israel last week have gone unheeded.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Israel of “genocide and crimes against humanity”.
“Make no mistake: Israel only understands the language of resistance and the Palestinian people have the full right to defend themselves,” Zarif said.
Across the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf states, reactions to the fighting have been mixed. In Qatar, home to the Al-Jazeera satellite network, hundreds of people flocked to Saturday night to listen to a speech by senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. He now divides his time between Turkey and Qatar, both supporting Hamas, as well as Iran.
“The resistance will not give in,” Haniyeh vowed as bodyguards stood behind him. He added that “resistance is the shortest way to Jerusalem” and that the Palestinians will accept nothing less than a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
The speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament is said to have held talks with Haniyeh on Saturday, as did the Qatari foreign minister. The same was true for General Esmail Ghaani, leader of the Quds Expeditionary Forces of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.
Then there are Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, two Gulf Arab states that struck recognition agreements with Israel last year in the closing months of the Trump administration. These nations, along with Saudi Arabia, reiterated their support for the Palestinians to achieve their own independent state. However, government-linked media in these countries have not covered the current surge in non-stop violence like other networks in the region.
There are, however, whispers of dissent. In the island nation of Bahrain, civil society groups signed a letter urging the kingdom to expel the Israeli ambassador due to the violence. In the United Arab Emirates, where political parties and demonstrations are illegal, Palestinians in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai staff quietly expressed their anger, worried about losing their residence permits. Some Emiratis have also expressed concerns.
“The only democracy in the region,” tweeted UAE writer and political analyst Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, writing about Israel’s strike on a building in Gaza that housed the offices of the Associated Press and Al Qassemi. -Jazeera..
Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, criticized OIC members who have concluded recognition agreements with Israel.
“There are a few who have lost their moral compass and expressed their support for Israel,” he said. “If there are half-hearted statements within our own family, how can we criticize those who (don’t) take our words seriously?”
Zarif also called those with recognition agreements naive, saying Israel designed them to divide the Muslim world.
“The slaughter of Palestinian children today follows the so-called normalization,” he said. “This criminal and genocidal regime has once again proven that friendly gestures only aggravate its atrocities.”
Hussein Ibish, senior researcher at the Washington-based Institute for the Arab States of the Gulf, said most Arab Gulf leaders fear Hamas rocket fire would be “cynical, dangerous, needlessly provocative and endangering Israelis. and the Palestinians in Gaza ”. This takes the pressure off those Gulf leaders to react, unlike other clashes involving the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site in Jerusalem, or when Israeli settlers force Arab families to leave their homes, he said.
“There will not be much sympathy for what is widely seen in the Gulf as Israel’s harsh and disproportionate retaliation,” Ibish wrote, “but it will be much easier for the Gulf rulers and many citizens. to see the exchange as a tragic conflagration. at the expense of ordinary people provoked by two leaders over whom they have no control or responsibility. “
Associated Press editors Aya Batrawy and Malak Harb in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.