Wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, Iran’s Raisi arrives in Saudi Arabia for Gaza summit

Iranian president blames US for ‘expanding the scope of the war’ in comments ahead of his first trip to Riyadh since countries restored ties

Iran's President Raisi arrives in Riyadh for a summit on Gaza, November 11, 2023. (Screen grab Al Ekhbaria/AFP used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Iran's President Raisi arrives in Riyadh for a summit on Gaza, November 11, 2023. (Screen grab Al Ekhbaria/AFP used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday for a summit on Gaza, state-affiliated media reported, his first visit since the two countries agreed to restore ties in March.

Footage aired on the Al-Ekhbariya channel showed Raisi, wearing a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf, greeting Saudi officials at the airport after disembarking from his plane.

The emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) comes after Tehran-backed Hamas’s October 7 massacre in which terrorists killed about 1,200 people in a brutal rampage in southern Israel and took at least 240 hostages to Gaza.

Israel’s subsequent aerial and ground offensive has killed more than 11,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The terror group’s figures cannot be independently verified, and include members of Hamas as well as Gazans killed by rocket misfires by terrorists.

The Arab League and the OIC were originally meant to meet separately, but the Saudi foreign ministry announced early Saturday that the blocs’ summits would be combined.

The move underscores the importance of reaching “a unified collective position that expresses the common Arab and Islamic will regarding the dangerous and unprecedented developments witnessed in Gaza and the Palestinian territories,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

A picture taken from Sderot along the border with the Gaza Strip, shows smoke rising behind destroyed buildings in the Palestinian enclave during an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing fighting between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, November 10, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Middle East leaders have called for a ceasefire while warning the conflict risks drawing in other countries, a threat Raisi on Saturday blamed on Washington’s staunch support for Israel. Iran’s ruling regime encourages Israel’s destruction, and arms and funds Gaza’s Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, terror groups that openly pursue the goal of eliminating the Jewish state.

“The war machine in Gaza belongs to the US,” he said before departing for Riyadh. “The US has prevented the ceasefire in Gaza and is expanding the scope of the war.”

Several Western governments have called for a “humanitarian pause” in Israel’s offensive, but not for an immediate ceasefire. For its part, Israel has maintained the stance that Hamas would use a ceasefire to regroup, and that one cannot be implemented without the release of the hostages held by terrorists in the Strip.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday condemned “continued violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli occupation forces,” his first public comments on the war, though Riyadh has leveled similar criticism in multiple statements.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session on ‘Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment’ as part of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, on September 9, 2023. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP)

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran severed ties in 2016 after Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked during protests over Riyadh’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

But in March, a China-brokered deal saw the long-time rivals agree to restore diplomatic relations and reopen their respective embassies.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have backed opposing sides in conflict zones across the Middle East for years, including in Yemen, where in 2015, Riyadh mobilized an international coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels who had toppled the internationally recognized government the previous year.

Houthis have launched a number of attacks on Israel in recent weeks, and there are concerns that Tehran may try to widen the conflict using its regional proxies, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror organization.

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