Gulf Arab leaders discuss Gaza in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH (Reuters) – Gulf Arab leaders gathered in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Thursday for an emergency meeting on Israel’s offensive in Gaza that could help scupper an Arab summit proposed by regional maverick Qatar.

King Abdullah called the meeting, pre-empting a bid by Qatar to stage an Arab summit in Doha on Friday that Saudi Arabia and Egypt have refused to attend.

The two Arab heavyweights have said they would prefer Arab leaders to discuss Gaza during an already-scheduled Arab Economic Summit in Kuwait next week.

The tug-of-war over whether, when and where to hold a summit reflects the Arab divide between Egypt, Saudi 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 neighbor, are more sympathetic toward Islamist group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007 after routing fighters from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group.

Israel says its attack on Gaza since December 27, killing over 1,000 Palestinians, aims to crush Hamas’ armed resistance through firing rockets into the Jewish state.

Egypt has blamed Hamas for provoking Israel with rocket attacks. Saudi Arabia has refrained from openly blaming Hamas but writers in semi-official papers have accused Hamas of allying with Riyadh’s bete noire, Shi’ite power Iran.

Leaders of states of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — arrived in Riyadh on Thursday evening.

Qatar’s Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who said in a speech earlier that his summit invitation is still open, was shown on Saudi state television sipping Arabic coffee and engaging in small talk with the Saudi king. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos sent a representative in his place.

Hesham Youssef, aide to Arab League chief Amr Moussa, said earlier the Riyadh meeting could help solidify the fate of the Qatari and Kuwaiti arrangements.

Faced with a non-stop flow of harrowing images of Palestinian civilian suffering on Arab television channels, Arab leaders are under pressure from their peoples to try to bring the fighting to an end.

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