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Arab leaders, U.N. secretary-general met at a summit in Cairo to discuss the war

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Arab leaders, European officials and the U.N. secretary-general met in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas. All of them called for international law to be upheld amid an Israeli air campaign that's killed thousands of civilians and devastated the Gaza Strip's infrastructure. The calls came just as Israel said it would step up airstrikes in Gaza and as the U.S. deploys additional missile systems to the region. NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from Amman, Jordan. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So summits like this one usually end in some statement of agreement - but not this one.

ARRAF: You're right - not this one. There was no concluding statement that would have indicated a broad agreement. If it did anything, really, it tried to send the message that Palestinians exist, that they have the same right to life as other people and the underlying message that even though Hamas doesn't speak or act for the Palestinian people, Israel is inflicting collective punishment. Jordan's King Abdullah spoke in English at the summit because he said he wanted his message to reach Americans and Europeans. And he said if any other country were depriving civilians of shelter, food and water and demolishing infrastructure, it would be condemned. He said Palestinians felt abandoned.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING ABDULLAH II: And still, for the most part, global silence. Yet the message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear - Palestinians' lives matter less than Israeli ones.

ARRAF: That's also the message, by the way, that I've been hearing from the streets in Amman. One refugee from Gaza here told me that he feels, nobody sees us.

RASCOE: Did the leaders at the summit agree to take any action?

ARRAF: They didn't. You know, this conference was always going to have limited effectiveness because of who wasn't there. The U.S. this week vetoed a U.N. call for a cease-fire in Gaza and sent only a lower-level official to the summit. President Biden, though, did visit Israel days before. And he was supposed to come to Jordan, too. But that was called off after the hospital strike in Gaza. Israel wasn't there. Nor was Iran, one of the most powerful countries in the region.

And as for the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, he referred to what a lot of Arab countries see as the central issue here - that Israeli attacks are aimed at pushing out even more Palestinians as refugees. That's on top of the millions forced from their homes since 1948. And it would likely torpedo any chance of an eventual Palestinian state. Here's how he put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAHMOUD ABBAS: (Non-English language spoken).

ARRAF: He's repeating three times, we will not leave. We will remain on our land. In any case, Gazans are trapped there. And Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has made clear he won't take in refugees from there. That's because of security concerns and his fear that if Gazans left, they'd never go back. They would stay in Egypt, and there'd be even less chance for a Palestinian state.

RASCOE: In the 30 seconds we have left - obviously, Arab leaders want to see an immediate stop to violence, but what else do they want?

ARRAF: Well, they want to see a two-state solution, one along the lines agreed to by Israel and Palestinian leaders in the 1990s. That issue has really been on the back burner recently, with some powerful Arab countries warming up to Israel. The lack of Palestinian homeland has always been seen here as one of the biggest drivers of instability in the region. And this war is a dramatic reminder of that.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Amman. Thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.