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Arab League calls for UN peacekeeping force in Palestinian territories, ceasefire in Gaza

The US has been lobbying Arab League host Bahrain and other states ahead of summit to form a peacekeeping mission
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (C) posing with Arab leaders in Manama ahead of 33rd Arab League Summit, on 16 May (Bahrain News Agency/AFP)

The Arab League on Thursday called for a UN peacekeeping force in the occupied Palestinian territories, marking the first time Arab states have officially endorsed an internationalisation of the Israel-Palestine conflict since Israel’s war on Gaza erupted.

The 22-member group, meeting in Manama Bahrain, called for "international protection and peacekeeping forces of the United Nations in the occupied Palestinian territories" until a two-state solution is implemented.

Middle East Eye reported on Wednesday that Bahrain had signalled to the US in recent weeks that it was open to deploying troops to Gaza as part of an Arab peacekeeping force. Bahrain is a close ally and security partner of Saudi Arabia. 

The Financial Times also reported on Wednesday that the US had asked Morocco, the UAE and Egypt to join the force, but they were reluctant. Saudi Arabia was reportedly among other Arab states to reject the idea of deploying their forces.

A US official familiar with the talks told MEE that US officials hoped Bahrain could serve as "the tip of the spear" to provide momentum for a wider push for a multinational force that included Gulf heavyweights, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

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The Arab League also called for an immediate ceasefire in fighting and an end to the forced displacement of Palestinians.

"We demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a halt to all attempts at forced displacement, an end to all forms of siege and allowing full and sustainable access to aid," the 22-member bloc said.

Palestinian reconciliation

The Arab League also made a subtle call for Hamas and Fatah to end their rivalry, urging ”all Palestinian factions to join under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)“.

The PLO is dominated by the secular nationalist Palestinian party, Fatah. The statement reaffirmed the Arab League position that the PLO is "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people".

Bahrain signals willingness to join Arab multinational force in Gaza, US official says
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The League also took a swipe at Yemen’s Houthi movement, which has attacked commercial vessels in the Red Sea in what they say is solidarity with besieged Palestinians.

The summit in Bahrain "strongly condemned the attacks on commercial ships", saying they "threaten freedom of navigation, international trade, and the interests of countries and peoples of the world".

Speaking at the summit, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres described the war in Gaza as "an open wound that threatens to infect the entire region", calling for "the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages". 

Guterres said, "the only permanent way to end the cycle of violence and instability is through a two-state solution”.

The summit comes as Israel continues its offensives on the Gaza Strip which has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, mainly women and children. The fighting inflamed tensions with Egypt, after Israel launched an assault on Rafah and seized the southern Gaza city’s border crossing.

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