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RIYADH: Washington’s top diplomat is among leaders expected at a Saudi-hosted economic summit set to begin on Sunday with a strong focus on the grinding war in Gaza, organisers said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be “coming in directly from his visits in China and on his way to Israel,” Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum (WEF), told a press conference on Saturday in Riyadh.

Other participants at the two-day WEF special meeting include Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and foreign ministers and prime ministers from across the Middle East and Europe.

Hamas says it received Israel’s response to its ceasefire proposa

These include foreign ministers from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the EU and prime ministers from Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, according to a WEF press release.

A total of 12 heads of state and government feature among the more than 1,000 participants, Brende said on Saturday.

“There is some new momentum now in the talks around the hostages, and also for… a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza,” Brende said, without elaborating.

“There will be discussions, of course, on the ongoing humanitarian situation in Gaza” and “regional aspects also with Iran will be discussed” during what “has all the prospects for becoming a very consequential meeting.”

The war in Gaza began with Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages are still being held by Hamas in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign to destroy Hamas has killed at least 34,356 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Hamas said it was studying on Saturday the latest Israeli counterproposal regarding a potential ceasefire in Gaza, a day after media reports said a delegation from mediator Egypt arrived in Israel in a bid to jump-start stalled negotiations.

Saudi Arabia has never recognised Israel but was considering doing so before the October 7 attack, and talks continue on a deal that would also see Riyadh and Washington bolster their security partnership.

Saudi officials fear the war in Gaza and a potential regional conflagration could stymie the Gulf kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 social and economic reform agenda, which is meant to lay the groundwork for an eventual post-oil future.

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