Bahrain leader condemns Hamas Oct. 7 onslaught, calls for release of hostages

In address at security conference, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa says international community must work together for peace in Israel and Gaza

Bahrain Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa delivers the keynote address at the opening of the three-day IISS Manama Dialogue security conference, in Manama on November 17, 2023. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)
Bahrain Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa delivers the keynote address at the opening of the three-day IISS Manama Dialogue security conference, in Manama on November 17, 2023. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa became the first Arab leader to publicly condemn Hamas’s October 7 onslaught during a Middle East security and defense summit over the weekend.

During a keynote address at the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies’s annual Manama Dialogue security summit on Friday, the Bahraini leader said that he “unequivocally” condemns Hamas after thousands of terrorists poured into Israel through the Gaza border fence, slaughtered at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took some 240 hostages.

Calling the situation in Gaza “intolerable,” Khalifa stressed that “both in Islam and in Judaism, the protection of innocent life is a duty and a moral responsibility.”

Addressing the Manama Dialogue attendees, which included diplomatic and security officials from across the Middle East, United States and Europe, the Bahrain leader said he stands “on the side of civilians and innocents, and not on the side of political posturing. The attacks on October 7 were barbaric, they were horrific. They were indiscriminate. They killed women, children, the elderly, it did not matter.”

“They hit civilian institutions and they hit military targets,” he continued. “And on top of that, it seems it’s okay now to grab hostages and take them away and speak about it as if it’s an act of war. That is something that we condemn.”

The crown prince did not spare his criticism of Israel, either, or of the ongoing operation in Gaza, through which Israel has vowed to bring back the hostages and eliminate Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

The Hamas-run health ministry says that some 12,000 people in Gaza have been killed since October 7, most of them civilians. However, these numbers cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include members of Hamas, as well as civilians killed by hundreds of misfired rockets launched by Gazan terror groups.

“I unequivocally condemn the air campaign that resulted in the death of over 11,000 people in Gaza, 4,700 of which are children,” Khalifa said. “Now both of these actions have led to the death of innocents… both are reprehensible, both must stop, and both are things that we must deal with, with the greatest care, moving forward, because what we need to do is break the cycle.”

This picture taken from southern Israel shows smoke rising above buildings during an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip on November 19, 2023. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

In order to begin to move forward, he said, Hamas must first release the hostages that it has held for over six weeks. In exchange, he urged, Israel must release women and children “noncombatants, innocents.” Among the Palestinians jailed in Israel on security offenses are minors and women.

“This, I believe, is one component of what will achieve a break in hostilities — if you want to call it a ceasefire, you want to call it a pause, you can call it whatever you want,” Khalifa said. “The intention is a break. So people can take stock, people can bury their dead, people can finally start to grieve.”

The Bahraini leader called for all parties to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, in order to ensure that sick and wounded people are treated and civilians have access to food, and added that he believed the only way to ensure this will happen is for Hamas to agree to release the hostages.

“I don’t think any Arab leader has called on Hamas to release the hostages,” he said. “So it is a time for straight talking. It is a time when political positioning and the perpetuation of poisonous narratives and opposing narratives must no longer be our methodology.”

Khalifa stressed the need for the international community to come together and revitalize efforts to implement a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian people, saying that without it, “no real security will ever be realized.”

“We’re all here to end this war. I don’t care who started it, I don’t care who will end it,” he said. “I care that we all work together to make sure that it ends as quickly as possible.”

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