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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - NEW YORK — Diplomatic efforts took center stage over the weekend as the humanitarian crisis was deepening in Gaza.
The Hamas-ruled enclave — home to 2.2 million Palestinians — has been pounded by airstrikes in retaliation for the group's devastating October 7 terror attacks on Israel.
In a statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said we "are on the verge of the abyss" in the Middle East.
He urged Hamas to release hostages immediately, and without conditions. And he called on Israel to allow "rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid" for civilians in Gaza. He said UN disaster supplies could be delivered "within hours" if they are granted safe passage.
At least 2,670 people have already died in Gaza, and aid groups warn they are running out of critical supplies as Israel maintains a "complete siege" on the crowded territory. Tens of thousands of northern Gaza residents are trying to evacuate after the Israeli military warned the "next stages of the war" will bring even more airstrikes and "significant ground operations."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been engaged in whirlwind diplomacy efforts, meeting with various regional leaders, including those of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
The US has pledged steadfast support for Israel, repeatedly stating it is conducting "legitimate security operations." It has also, however, urged Israel to mitigate impacts to civilians in Gaza and prevent the war from expanding. Separately, top national security officials held meetings with Arab and Muslim American community leaders in the US Sunday.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called for the "immediate lifting of the siege on Gaza." He slammed the “targeting of civilians, the destruction of critical infrastructure, and the disruption of essential services” in Gaza, and said he was working with other regional players to de-escalate the situation.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said during a meeting with the US secretary of state that Israel’s response to the deadly Hamas attack has gone beyond its right to self-defense, and that it has started punishing the collective civilian population of Gaza.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in his first clear and stark denouncement of Hamas' attacks on Israel, said the militant group's actions “do not represent the Palestinian people.”
“The policies and actions of Hamas do not represent the Palestinian people, and it is the policies, programs, and decisions of the Palestine Liberation Organization that represent the Palestinian people as their legitimate and sole representative,” Abbas said during a phone call with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Sunday, the official Palestinian press agency WAFA reported.
Abbas called for an end to civilian casualties, the release of prisoners and a rejection of violence, according to WAFA.
During the call, Abbas also emphasized the urgent need for Israel to stop its aggression in Gaza and to immediately protect Gazan civilians by opening a humanitarian corridor for provisions of medical supplies, water, electricity, and fuel, WAFA reported.
Abbas said displacing Palestinians from Gaza would represent “a second catastrophe for the Palestinian people,” WAFA added.
Jordan's prime minister has accused Israel of "blatant violations of international law" in Gaza, saying Amman rejects "any measures and steps leading to the forced displacement of the Palestinian people" after the Israeli military warned 1.1 million northern Gazans to leave home before it steps up its war against Hamas.
Jordanian King Abdullah also told UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “denying food, water, and electricity supplies to innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip is a war crime that the world must condemn and denounce.”
European Union said it "condemns in the strongest possible terms Hamas and its brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks across Israel" and called for the immediate release of "all hostages without any precondition," the European Council said in a statement Sunday.
The EU said it is working to provide urgent humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, and will "engage broadly with the legitimate Palestinian authorities" to ensure its assistance is not "abused" by Hamas. — CNN
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