By Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Southeast Asian and Persian Gulf leaders condemned “all attacks” on civilians as they called for Israel and Hamas to cease hostilities in and around the besieged Palestinian enclave of Gaza, during a summit in Saudi Arabia on Friday.
The condemnation, conveyed through a joint statement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council, appeared to be directed at “all parties” in the two-week-old war – namely both Israeli forces and Hamas militants.
At their meeting in Riyadh, it said the ASEAN and GCC leaders agreed to “condemn all attacks against civilians and call for a durable ceasefire and for all concerned parties to ensure the most effective and efficient access for humanitarian aid” into the Gaza Strip.
That sliver of land between the coasts of southern Israel and northeastern Egypt is home to more than 2 million Palestinians who have had their water and electricity cut off in recent days by Israel, whose military has surrounded the enclave and is poised to invade Gaza in its quest to wipe out Hamas, reports said.
The leaders also “call on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians, refrain from targeting them and to abide by international humanitarian law,” read the joint statement, which was released after the first ASEAN-GCC summit.
It also called for “the immediate and unconditional release of civilian hostages and detainees, especially women, children, the sick and the elderly.”
The leaders of Southeast Asia’s two largest Muslim-majority countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, have yet to condemn Hamas outright for a wave of rocket strikes and ground raids into southern Israel that left hundreds of Israeli civilians dead on Oct. 7, according to reports.
Both countries do not recognize the State of Israel and are known to maintain high-level contacts with Hamas, a group branded as a terrorist organization by the United States and other Western countries. Hamas and other Palestinian militants are believed to be holding scores of Israelis and other nationals, including 19 Thais, hostage.
While addressing the summit, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim exclusively condemned Israel for its “disproportionate and indiscriminate bombing in Gaza and the blocking of basic and essential needs.”
“The international community must no longer turn a blind eye to the atrocities. We must put an end to the disproportionate treatment and flagrant hypocrisy,” he said. “The root causes of the conflict must be addressed. Without exception, human rights must be protected, and international law must be upheld.”
Anwar had earlier publicly pushed back against Western pressure to condemn Hamas, with which Malaysia has longstanding ties.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian nationalist and fundamentalist Muslim group that controls Gaza, has escalated dramatically since Oct. 7, when Hamas launched an unprecedented raid into southern Israel from multiple directions, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, as well as taking more than 100 hostages, reports said.
Israel retaliated with a massive aerial bombardment of Gaza City, leveling entire blocks in preparation for the ground strike and cutting off its access to electricity, water, food, and fuel.
The Gaza Health Ministry said Friday that the death toll in Gaza from Israeli airstrikes had risen to 4,137 people, with more than 13,300 others wounded and 1,000 missing, Reuters reported.
A Greek Orthodox church in Gaza that sheltered hundreds of Palestinian refugees was hit during an Israeli air raid overnight, leaving 16 people dead, the news agency added, citing Palestinian health officials.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that a long convoy of trucks ladened with a cargo of aid for Gaza remained stranded at the Rafah Crossing along the Egyptian border, after the U.S. government announced that Cairo had agreed on Wednesday to a plan to deliver humanitarian supplies to the enclave.
The United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, however, was the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to veto a resolution on Wednesday calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the U.N., said the U.S. vetoed the resolution because it “did not mention Israel’s right of self-defense.”
“Israel has the inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter,” she said, adding that the council had reaffirmed this right in previous resolutions about terrorist attacks. “This resolution should have done the same.”
The Israeli response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, meanwhile, has drawn severe criticism from humanitarian groups and other countries.
“I do not believe that killing even more civilians is in the interest of the future security and peace here in the region,” Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, a U.N. relief agency operating in Palestinian territories, told BBC News, referring to Israel’s retaliation.
“We are in a situation where more than a million people have been asked to be displaced. So this amounts to collective punishment, and collective punishment is a violation of international humanitarian law.”
Friday’s summit in Saudi Arabia brought together leaders from the Persian Gulf block of six oil and gas-rich nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, and ASEAN countries.
The inaugural summit of the two regional blocs endorsed the efforts by Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and the Arab League to revive the Middle East peace process in cooperation with Egypt and Jordan, and reaffirmed support for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.
Saudi Arabia, which was in talks with Israel for normalization of bilateral ties until the war broke out, and which traditionally backs the Hamas-rival Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, also struck a tone similar to that in the joint statement.
“We affirm our categorical rejection of targeting civilians in any way and under any pretext, and the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law and the necessity of stopping military operations against civilians and infrastructure that affect their daily lives,” Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said as he opened the summit in the Saudi capital, according to Agence France-Presse.
In a bilateral meeting with Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo also expressed concern over the worsening situation in Gaza and condemned Israel’s attacks on civilians and infrastructure.
“This is the time for the world to stand together to stop the escalation, prioritize humanitarian issues, and resolve the root cause according to the agreed international parameters,” he said, according to a statement released by his office.
During his speech at Friday’s summit, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. emphasized collaboration between ASEAN and the Gulf states to promote peace, security, and stability in both regions based on the rules-based international order.
Marcos expressed his deep concern about the rising number of casualties in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“We hope that all parties will exert their utmost efforts to de-escalate the situation, stop all violence, and engage in dialogue and diplomacy,” he said.
BenarNews staff in Kuala Lumpur and Manila contributed to the report.