Regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia call for ceasefire in Gaza at summit. | ET REALITY

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The leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals who earlier this year reestablished diplomatic relations after years of hostility, met in Riyadh on Saturday at a summit where they called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the unconditional delivery of humanitarian aid. to the besieged enclave, which Israeli forces have been shelling since the October 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel.

The two Islamic countries, which support opposing factions in proxy conflicts raging across the region, first announced their diplomatic breakthrough in March in a deal brokered by China, but it was unclear whether the move would lead to lasting detente between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia. and the Shiite government of Iran.

However, Israel’s war in Gaza appears to have accelerated the strengthening of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a powerful backer of Hamas that has provided training to its fighters, according to security officials.

President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran, whose visit to Saudi Arabia was the first by an Iranian president to the kingdom in more than a decade, was welcomed at the summit site by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman . The two spoke on the phone for the first time just a few days after October 7.

The war began after the Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that controls Gaza, in which approximately 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.

Since then, Israel has bombed Gaza with thousands of airstrikes, laid siege to the territory by cutting off water, food, fuel and other basic needs, and launched a ground invasion. Israeli air warfare and artillery strikes have killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, many of them children and women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

At the summit, Raisi criticized the international community for what he said was its silence on violations committed against civilians in Gaza. Both Israel and the United States – its most important ally – oppose a ceasefire for now, saying it would only allow Hamas’s military wing to regroup, although Israel has agreed to brief “humanitarian pauses” to allow people to leave areas of conflict. combat.

The Saudi crown prince, who had been exploring the possibility of normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel before the October 7 attack, said the crisis had demonstrated “the failure of the Security Council and the international community to end to Israel’s flagrant violations of international laws.”

After both leaders finished their speeches, they left the main conference room for a bilateral meeting.

Since the war, various Iranian proxies – from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen – have carried out attacks against Israel and US forces in Iraq, raising fears of a broader conflict.

Hamas’ ties with Iran have also evolved in recent years. One of the group’s leaders in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, had restored Hamas’ ties with Iran, which had been frayed in 2012, when Hamas closed its office in Syria, a close ally of Iran, during the Syrian civil war.

That restoration deepened the relationship between Hamas’s military wing in Gaza and the so-called axis of resistance, Iran’s network of regional militias, according to diplomats and regional security officials.

Saudi Arabia had initially scheduled two summits for this weekend, one for the Arab League and the second for members of the much larger Organization of Islamic Cooperation. But on Saturday they were combined into one event. Representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Türkiye and Iraq also attended.

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