An Israeli tank sits in a field as heavy smoke rises from the Gaza Strip July 22. Photo: AP
For the first time since an unprecedented diplomatic rift among Gulf powerhouses, Qatar's emir flew to Saudi Arabia late Tuesday in a surprise visit and met with King Abdullah to discuss cease-fire efforts that have yet to bring an end to 15 days of war in the Gaza Strip.
A senior Saudi official told The Associated Press that Saudi Crown Prince Salman, and Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin also attended the meetings with Qatar's Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the coastal city of Jiddah.
King Abdullah's security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the king's son who heads the National Guard, Prince Miteb, also sat in on the discussion, the official said. He spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the meeting.
The meeting brought together two influential Arab brokers backing different cease-fire initiatives. Saudi Arabia is supporting an Egyptian cease-fire initiative that Israel accepted but Hamas rejected. Qatar, on the other hand, is the main conduit of Hamas conditions for a cease-fire that include guarantees for the lifting of a seven-year blockade of Gaza, enforced by Israel and Egypt.
The talks in Jiddah come amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts that has intensified on the 15th day of the war. More than 630 Palestinians, many of them women and children, and 29 Israelis - 27 soldiers and two civilians - have been killed.
The visit to Saudi Arabia marks the first high-level contact between Qatar's emir and Saudi King Abdullah since the kingdom, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, withdrew their ambassadors in March to protest Doha's support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group in the region.
The Saudi official told AP that al-Thani went to Saudi Arabia just one day after Oman's foreign minister visited him in Doha amid suggestions that some members in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council were considering suspending Qatar's membership.
Regional divisions run deep. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation after Cairo's military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power last year. Turkey and Qatar were close allies of the Brotherhood and have backed Hamas' cease-fire demands on the international stage.