Arab and Muslim leaders on Saturday condemned Israeli forces’ “barbaric” actions in Gaza but declined to approve punitive economic and political steps against the country over its war against Hamas.
The summit took place against a backdrop of widespread anger in the Middle East and beyond over Israel’s aerial and ground offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 11,000 people, mostly civilians and many of them children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Israel blames Hamas for the high death count, accusing it of using civilians as “human shields” — a charge Hamas denies.
The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a 57-member bloc that includes Iran, were originally meant to meet separately.
Some countries, including Algeria and Lebanon, proposed responding to the devastation in Gaza by threatening to disrupt oil supplies to Israel and its allies as well as severing the economic and diplomatic ties that some Arab League nations have with Israel.
However, at least three countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalized ties with Israel in 2020, rejected the proposal, according to the diplomats who spoke on condition on anonymity.
In a statement issued from Gaza, Hamas called on summit participants to expel Israeli ambassadors, form a legal commission to try “Israeli war criminals” and create a reconstruction fund for the territory.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said a lack of concrete punitive measures against Israel would render the summit toothless.
He said no Middle Eastern country should engage in any “political process” with Israel, including developing economic relations, until a lasting ceasefire is reached.
The lack of consensus was no big surprise, said Rabha Saif Allam, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the Cairo Center for Strategic Studies.
Iran and its allies, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Huthi rebels, were at the center of concerns that the war could expand.