Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said: “What we are seeing is the Israelis are crushing Gaza, the civilian population of Gaza.” Image Credit: AFP file

WASHINGTON:  Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said there can be no normalisation of ties with Israel without resolving the Palestinian issue, he told CNN in an interview that aired on Sunday.

Asked if there could be no normal ties without a path to a credible and irreversible Palestinian state, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told CNN: “That’s the only way we’re going to get the benefit. So, yes, because we need stability and only stability will come through the resolving the Palestinian issue.”

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The foreign minister’s remarks were part of an interview originally taped on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum held last week in Davos, Switzerland, and aired Sunday on CNN.

De-escalation of the conflict in Gaza and halting civilian deaths is a key focus of Saudi Arabia, the minister said.

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“What we are seeing is the Israelis are crushing Gaza, the civilian population of Gaza,” he said. “This is completely unnecessary, completely unacceptable and has to stop.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected US and international calls for postwar plans that would include a path to Palestinian statehood. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the refusal to accept a two-state solution “totally unacceptable.”

“The Middle East is a tinderbox. We must do all we can to prevent conflict igniting across the region,” Guterres added Sunday. “And that starts with an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to relieve the suffering in Gaza.”

The Palestinian death toll from the war between Israel and Hamas has soared past 25,000, the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said on Sunday, while the Israeli government appeared far from achieving its goals of crushing the militant group and freeing more than 100 hostages.

The death, destruction and displacement from the war is without precedent in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli officials say the fighting is likely to continue for several more months.

The United States, which has provided diplomatic and military support for Israel’s offensive, has had limited success in persuading Israel to put civilians at less risk and to facilitate the delivery of more humanitarian aid.

Very worried

Prince Faisal bin Farhan also said the kingdom was “very worried” that tensions in the Red Sea amid attacks by Yemen’s Al Houthis and US strikes on Al Houthi targets could spiral out of control and escalate the conflict in the region.

“I mean, of course, we are very worried. I mean, you know, we are in a very difficult and dangerous time in the region, and that’s why we are calling for de-escalation,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan told CNN ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’.

Attacks by the Iran-aligned Al Houthi militia on ships in and around the Red Sea for the past several weeks have slowed trade between Asia and Europe and alarmed major powers in an escalation of the war in Gaza.

The Saudi foreign minister said the kingdom believed in freedom of navigation and wanted tensions in the region to be de-escalated.

“We of course, believe very much in the freedom of navigation. And that’s something that needs to be protected. But we also need to protect the security and stability of the region. So we are very focused on de-escalating the situation as much as possible,” he told CNN.

Al Houthis, who control most of Yemen, say their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians under attack from Israel in Gaza.

Since last week, the United States has been launching strikes on Al Houthi targets in Yemen, and this week returned the militia to a list of “terrorist” groups.

President Joe Biden said on Thursday that air strikes would continue even as he acknowledged they may not be halting Al Houthi attacks.

US taking attack on troops ‘extremely seriously’

The United States is taking the attack by Iran-backed militants on a base hosting US forces in Iraq over the weekend “extremely seriously,” the White House said on Sunday.

“Multiple ballistic missiles and rockets” were fired by Iranian-backed militants at Al Assad Airbase in western Iraq late Saturday, the US military said, leading to one Iraqi and possible American casualties.

“It was a very serious attack, using a capability of ballistic missiles that posed a genuine threat,” White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said on Sunday.

“We are going to respond... to establish deterrence in these situations, and to hold these groups accountable that continue to attack us,” Finer added during his appearance on ABC’s This Week.

“You can be assured that we are taking this extremely seriously.”

Most of the projectiles fired at the base were intercepted by air defence systems, Finer and the Pentagon said.

Since mid-October, there have been dozens of attacks on the approximately 2,500 US troops in Iraq and the around 900 in Syria, deployed there with other coalition forces to fight militants of Daesh (Islamic State) group.

The use of ballistic missiles marks an escalation in the attacks, which had previously been carried out with lower-tech rockets and drones.