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Gaza set to dominate Saudi-hosted global economy summit

By AFP

April 28, 2024 08:44 AM


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The war in Gaza and broader Middle East tensions are expected to get top billing at a Saudi-hosted special meeting of the World Economic Forum that begins on Sunday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Palestinian leaders and high-ranking officials from other countries trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are on the guest list for the summit in Riyadh, capital of the world's biggest crude oil exporter.

"The world is today walking a tightrope right now, trying to balance security and prosperity," Saudi planning minister Faisal al-Ibrahim told a press conference on Saturday previewing the event.

"We meet at a moment when one misjudgement or one miscalculation or one miscommunication will further exacerbate our challenges."

Gaza's war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages seized by militants on October 7 are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,388 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

 

- 'New momentum' in hostage talks -

 

Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum (WEF), told Saturday's press conference there was "some new momentum now in the talks around the hostages, and also for... a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza".

However there will be no Israeli participation at the summit and Brende noted that formal mediation involving Qatar and Egypt was unfolding elsewhere.

"This is more an opportunity to have structured discussions" with "the key players", he said.

"There will be discussions, of course, on the ongoing humanitarian situation in Gaza" as well as on Iran, which backs Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah group, he added.

The gathering "has all the prospects for becoming a very consequential meeting."

The US State Department said that Blinken will "discuss ongoing efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza that secures the release of hostages and how it is Hamas that is standing between the Palestinian people and a ceasefire".

Hopes that mediators could secure a new truce in Gaza before or during the holy month of Ramadan ultimately came to nothing.

Hamas said it was studying on Saturday the latest Israeli counterproposal regarding a potential ceasefire in Gaza, a day after media reports said a delegation from mediator Egypt arrived in Israel in a bid to jump-start stalled negotiations.

From the outset Saudi Arabia has worked with other regional and global powers to try to contain the war in Gaza and avoid the type of conflagration that could derail its ambitious economic reform agenda known as Vision 2030.

 

- Spotlight on Saudi -

 

The kingdom also remains in talks about a landmark deal under which it would recognise Israel for the first time while strengthening its security partnership with the United States.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, spoke optimistically about the deal in an interview with Fox News in September, but analysts say the war has made it more difficult.

Meanwhile the conservative Gulf kingdom, home to the holiest shrines in Islam, is trying to open up to the world, luring business leaders and non-religious tourists.

Hosting international events such as the two-day WEF meeting allows the kingdom to showcase social changes including the reintroduction of cinemas and the lifting of a ban on women driving.

"Eight years into Vision 2030, we have demonstrated our willingness to lead the way towards a model of transformative growth that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable. And we've seen some of the results," Ibrahim said on Saturday.

Yet questions persist about just how much of Vision 2030 will be achieved and when, with special scrutiny falling on signature projects such as NEOM, a planned futuristic megacity.

In December, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said officials had decided to push the timeframe for some major projects past 2030, without specifying which ones.

"Certain projects can be expanded for three years -- so it's 2033 -- some will be expanded to 2035, some will be expanded even beyond that and some will be rationalised," he said.


AFP


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