Iran president expected to attend summit in Saudi on Gaza

A handout picture provided by the Iranian Presidency shows the Islamic Republic's President Ebrahim Raisi speaking in Tehran, on Nov 6, 2023. [AFP]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to attend a summit in the Saudi capital on Sunday addressing the Israel-Hamas war, a source familiar with the preparations told Agence France-Presse on Monday.

It would be Raisi's first visit to the Gulf kingdom since the two countries agreed to restore diplomatic relations after seven years of severed ties, a deal brokered by China and announced in March.

The summit is being organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a 57-member bloc of majority-Muslim countries based in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah.

It is planned to take place one day after an emergency meeting of Arab League leaders on the war, also in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

"President Raisi will attend the summit of the OIC in Riyadh," the source familiar with planning for the summit told AFP on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the plans with the media.

The OIC has repeatedly spoken out against attacks on civilians in Gaza, where Israel is trying to eliminate Hamas in response to the militant group's October 7 attack, which Israeli officials say left more than 1,400 people dead, mostly civilians, and saw 240 people taken hostage.

The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 10,000 people, including more than 4,000 children, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said Monday after nearly one month of relentless Israeli bombardment.

Raisi and Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, held their first phone call on October 12, in which both men voiced support for the Palestinian cause. According to Iranian state news agency IRNA, they discussed the "need to end war crimes against Palestine."

Neither country recognizes Israel, though before the war, Saudi Arabia was involved in discussions brokered by the United States about possible normalization.

Iran has long provided financial and military support for Hamas.

Saudi officials are deeply worried about a possible widening of the war that could derail Salman's sweeping Vision 2030 reform agenda intended to transition the world's biggest crude oil exporter away from fossil fuels.