Egypt peace summit struggles to foster unity on Gaza conflict


Egypt is holding a summit on the Gaza crisis on Saturday amid growing fears of a wider Middle East war. France's Foreign Minister is attending, but the absence of a top official from the US – Israel's main ally – and some other leaders has dampened expectations for what it can achieve.

The hastily convened Cairo Peace Summit brings together several Arab and European heads of state and government, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah, alongside foreign ministers.

They're meeting as Israel readies a ground assault on Gaza following the 7 October attack by Hamas that killed 1,400 people.

More than 4,100 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's counteroffensive, amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

On Friday, tens of thousands of protesters rallied across Egypt, Jordan and Turkey in support of people in Gaza. 

Muslims held smaller demonstrations in Indonesia, Malaysia and India.

Quest for united approach

Host Egypt has said little about the aims of the gathering, beyond a 15 October statement by the presidency that the summit would cover recent developments involving the crisis in Gaza and the future of the Palestinian issue.

A senior EU official said there had been discussions about a common summit declaration but there were still "differences" so it was not clear if there would be a text in the end.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna is attending, but neither German Chancellor Olaf Scholz nor British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are present.

European countries have struggled to settle on a united approach to the crisis, beyond condemning Hamas's attack, after days of confusion and mixed messaging.

Arab countries have voiced anger at Israel's unprecedented bombardment and siege of Gaza, home to 2.3 million people.

Egypt has been trying to channel humanitarian relief to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, the one access point not controlled by Israel, but aid has piled up on the Egyptian side.

No forced displacement

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Wednesday that Egyptians in their millions would reject the forced displacement of Palestinians into Sinai, adding that any such move would turn the Egyptian peninsula into a base for attacks against Israel.

There are also Arab fears that Palestinians could be forced from their homes en masse, as they were during the war over Israel's creation in 1948.

Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah said on 12 October they rejected forcibly displacing Palestinians and that Israel was "imposing collective punishment" on the inhabitants of Gaza by bombing civilians.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that rules Gaza, after its fighters crossed the barrier around the enclave on 7 October in the deadliest day in Israel's 75-year history.

It is widely expected to launch a ground assault.
(with Reuters)