Arab ministers mull review of peace offer


  • World
  • Thursday, 06 Mar 2008

MYT 6:46:25 AM

CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers threatened on Wednesday to reconsider a longstanding Arab offer of peace with Israel and condemned recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip as "crimes against humanity".

A Palestinian who was wounded last week by Israeli troops is carried as he leaves Gaza for treatment at an Egyptian hospital, March 5, 2008. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

They said in a statement: "For the Arab side to continue to offer the Arab peace initiative, it will be linked with Israel's implementation of its basic international commitments."

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told a news conference the foreign ministers would make recommendations on peace strategy to an Arab summit in Damascus later this month.

"The matter must be restudied. What is the benefit? What is the strategy which must be adopted in the light of the complete rejection of the hand stretched out?" he added.

The ministers did not mention any possible alternatives to the 2002 peace initiative, which offered Israel normal relations with all Arab countries in return for withdrawal to the borders as they stood on the eve of the 1967 war.

Israel initially rejected the initiative but showed some interest in discussing it last year, in the hope that this would lead to contacts with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries which do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Moussa said the ministers were not recommending that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas end his negotiations with Israel -- currently the main track of Middle East peace talks.

The ministers were preparing for the summit in Damascus, which some Arab leaders may not attend if the Lebanese government and opposition have not by then elected a new president to replace the one who left office last November.

AIRPORT MEETING

The deadlock in Lebanon reflects the regional tension between Syria and Saudi Arabia, with Syria allied to the opposition and the Saudis with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The United States also backs Siniora while Iran is allied with the Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah, the main opposition force.

The Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers, Manouchehr Mottaki and Prince Saud al-Faisal, met unexpectedly at Cairo airport on Wednesday, possibly on Lebanon. Arab diplomats say an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia could break the deadlock.

There were no immediate details of the unexpected talks, which Egyptian officials said covered Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

In their formal statements, the ministers said nothing about attendance at the summit but Secretary-General Moussa said he was confident that all 22 Arab League members would take part.

But it would be up to individual countries to decide the level at which they will attend, he added.

Diplomats say Arab governments friendly with Washington -- mainly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- have been trying to use summit attendance as a means to put pressure on the Syrians to have their Lebanese allies reach a deal on the presidency.

If the Lebanese parliament fails to elect a head of state in time, then the prime minister would be invited, Moussa said.

The Arab ministers said they "strongly condemn the barbaric crimes that the Israeli occupation forces committed in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories".

They said they were "recording these Israeli crimes as crimes of war and crimes against humanity".

Israel ended a five-day Gaza military offensive on Monday in which more than 120 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed. It has threatened to send troops back to the Hamas-run coastal territory if cross-border rocket attacks continue.

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