Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Friday ratcheted up the rhetoric against arch-nemesis Iran, calling on Arab states to confront its ‘criminal’ actions after attacks on oil installations sparked fears of a regional conflagration.
The king’s remarks came at the start of two back-to-back emergency summits in the holy city of Makkah, which drew near-unanimous support for the Sunni kingdom from Gulf and Arab states - with the exception of Iraq.
The summits came a day after hawkish US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Iran was almost certainly behind this month’s sabotage of four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE coast. Tehran rejected the charge.
Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, also faces stepped-up drone attacks from Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, one of which resulted in the temporary shutdown of a major oil pipeline.
‘The absence of a firm and dissuasive response to Iran’s acts of sabotage in the region has encouraged it to continue and strengthen them in the way we see today,’ the Saudi king said.
‘Its recent criminal acts... require that all of us work seriously to preserve the security and achievements of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council),’ the king added, referring to the attacks on Gulf oil installations.
The monarch also called on the international community to use ‘all means’ necessary to contain the Shiite power.
Saudi Arabia hosted the summits - which will be followed by a third meeting on Saturday of heads of state from Islamic nations - apparently to mobilise efforts to isolate Iran’s regime amid fears of a military confrontation.
But Iraq, caught in the middle of its two allies, the US and Iran, opposed a final statement released by Arab countries, which condemned Tehran’s behaviour in the region.
Iraq, which has offered to mediate between Washington and Tehran, recently warned of a risk of war amid escalating tensions.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iranians marking the annual ‘Quds (Jerusalem) Day’ in the Islamic Republic on Friday condemned a planned Middle East peace plan touted by US President Donald Trump as the ‘deal of the century’, reports Reuters.
State television said state-sponsored marches were being held in 950 communities across Iran and showed demonstrators carrying banners with slogans such as ‘Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine’ and ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’.
Marchers also set fire to a Trump mask and Israeli and US flags, according to pictures on Iranian news websites.
Trump’s plan is to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Arab donor countries before grappling with thorny political issues at the heart of the conflict. Palestinian officials have already spurned it, believing it will be heavily biased in favour of Israel. Iran said it would fail.
‘No to the deal of the century’ read a banner splashed across the news screen on state TV, which also showed a Quds Day march in neighbouring Iraq’s capital Baghdad, where thousands of fighters from powerful Shi’ite militias took to the streets.
‘Al-Quds day in Baghdad, in other Iraqi provinces, and across the world, expresses rejection of the ‘deal of the century’, which is being planned by Trump in order to dissolve the Palestinian cause in own way,’ said Mo’een al-Kathem, a member of Baghdad’s provincial council.
The Iraqi militiamen marched in combat fatigues but were unarmed and did not showcase military vehicles and heavy weaponry, a contrast to previous years when they took the parade as an opportunity to showcase combat prowess.
Numbers were consistent with annual turnout but there was a noted absence of influential militia leaders who usually mark the day by delivering fiery speeches critical of Israel and expressing gratitude to Iran for its backing.
Quds Day was launched by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and is held on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Opposition to Israel is a cornerstone of Sha-led Iran. It backs Palestinian and Lebanese Islamist militant groups opposed to peace with Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognise.
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