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Mideast ministers in Ottawa to discuss Israel-Hamas war with Joly, Trudeau

The delegation calls itself the Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit
Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly attends a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A group of foreign ministers from the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are in Ottawa today for a quietly planned meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to discuss attempts to end the Israel-Hamas war.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also joined the talks, arranged to see how countries such as Canada can help efforts to secure peace for Palestinians and Israelis, after Hamas militants launched a deadly rampage in Israel on Oct. 7.

The delegation calls itself the Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit and it normally includes Jordan, though Joly’s office says that country needed to send its foreign minister on other business.

The group is not a joint peace project with Israel, and says its leaders aim to speak on behalf of Arab and Muslim people following Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in response to the Hamas attack.

This is the first visit of Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister to Canada since a diplomatic chill over human rights issues in 2018, when Riyadh recalled its ambassador from Ottawa and expelled Canada’s envoy.

Joly’s office says the ministers are to discuss political pathways to a comprehensive and lasting peace, with a focus on “self-determination, human rights and security” for both Palestinians and Israelis.

They will also discuss the need to allow much more humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

The delegation is in Ottawa after travelling to Washington, with the group so far focused on the five members of the UN Security Council and the European Union presidency holder, Spain.

The group of ministers had previously visited the capitals of China, France, Russia, Britain and the U.S., as well as Spain.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Israel has a right to defend itself, while arguing that acts such as the “killing of women, of children, of babies” in Gaza undermines the possibility of a two-state solution, where Israel and a Palestinian country could live peacefully beside each other.

That would follow a 1993 plan known as the Oslo Accord that was endorsed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank but not Gaza. Hamas has not supported the accord.

The Canadian government says Hamas must release its hostages and that all foreigners must be allowed to leave the Gaza Strip, though Global Affairs Canada has stopped publishing the number of Canadians it believes are still in the besieged territory.

Approximately 240 people were taken hostage during Hamas’s attack on Israel and it’s believed that militants are still holding more than 130 people, including one Canadian woman.

Israel and Hamas negotiated the release of 110 hostages taken from Israel in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, during a weeklong truce. Both sides blame each other for the resumption of hostilities.

The ministerial committee visiting Canada has stressed the need for an immediate stop to “military escalation” in Gaza, and to propel the political process forward with the goal of lasting peace.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Gaza is at “a breaking point,” with the humanitarian support system at risk of total collapse.

Guterres used a rare power this week to call for a ceasefire, in a move the U.S. vetoed at the Security Council. Israel has argued an immediate ceasefire would only help Hamas prepare for more violent attacks, and says its priority is to remove the group’s capacity to inflict mass violence against Israelis.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Israeli warplanes were striking parts of the Gaza Strip that include some of the dwindling bits of land Israeli officials told Palestinians to evacuate to, in the south of the territory. That has left Palestinians huddling on a narrow patch of barren coastline.

Joly has said that negotiations between Israel and Hamas are needed to end the conflict, though Canada has not followed some European countries in calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The Palestinian Authority is the internationally recognized body that speaks for Palestinians, including in negotiations aimed at a two-state solution. The group controls the West Bank but not Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since 2007.

Canada has no relations with Hamas, which it has deemed a terrorist organization since 2002, and so cannot negotiate with the group.

In May, Canada and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore ambassadors in each other’s capitals, after a 2018 spat sparked by Canada’s loud condemnation of the kingdom’s human-rights record.

That year, Canada called on Saudi Arabia to release its detained women’s rights and democracy activists. Riyadh responded by pulling its ambassador and freezing new trade with Canada.

– With files from The Associated Press

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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