RIYADH, Dec 9, (Agencies): Saudi King Salman called for political solutions to the wars in Syria and Yemen, while condemning “terrorism,” at the opening of an annual Gulf summit in Riyadh. Kings and rulers from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states began two days of talks in the Saudi capital, at the same time as unprecedented discussions by the Syrian opposition at a luxury hotel in another part of the city. Kuwait is represented in the summit by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Salman voiced “support for a political settlement which guarantees the territorial integrity of Syria,” after nearly five years of war. Despite the urgency of the challenges they face, analysts say the Gulf monarchs struggle to find common ground. “This summit comes as the Gulf is witnessing one of its most critical years,” said Farea al-Muslimi, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Centre. He sees “internal disagreement” among the Gulf states confronting complicated economic and security challenges. On behalf of the Gulf states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — Salman also called for “a peaceful solution” in neighbouring Yemen. For more than eight months, Gulf military forces have been fighting in Yemen to support President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government alongside an array of local anti-rebel forces. The coalition has been trying to push Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels and allied troops from territory they occupied. Jihadists have taken advantage of the chaos to expand their presence in the country.
In his opening address at Diriyah Palace, Salman said all countries have a responsibility to combat terrorism and extremism. “Islam rejects and abhors terrorism, because it is a religion of moderation and tolerance,” said the monarch whose kingdom is founded on the teachings of fundamentalist cleric Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab. Wahhabi thought has been accused of fuelling deadly Sunni extremism around the world, including the murderous drive of Islamic State group militants. But Saudi Arabia itself has seen an upsurge of attacks claimed by IS over the past year, against minority Shiites and members of the security forces. Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani told the summit that recent attacks in several countries prove that this “odious scourge” is a threat to everybody. “The international community must, more than ever, intensify efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and eliminate its real causes by all means,” the emir said. The kings and emirs passed ceremonial guards on horses as they arrived for their summit at one of Riyadh’s main royal palaces, protected by armoured vehicles and machineguns.