Arab Foreign Ministers Meet in Cairo to Discuss Palestinian Issue; Syrian, Lebanese Foreign Ministers Boycott
Arab states tried to overcome feuds among them and bolster the Palestinians, under fire from a week-long Israeli siege in the West Bank, at an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday.
Foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League gathered for a full session on Saturday, which was called at the behest of the Palestinians.
According to AFP, the meeting was expected to be a tough one, with Arab leaders still seething over a stormy two-day summit in Beirut last week that adopted an unprecedented Arab proposal for peace with Israel.
Lebanon has already said it will not send Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammud to the Cairo meeting, saying Arab League Ambassador Sami Kronfol will attend instead. Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said the action, supported by Syria, which also announced Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara would not attend -- was in anger at Egyptian and Jordanian flouting of Lebanese-backed decisions taken at the summit.
Syria and Lebanon want Arab states to implement a summit resolution calling for a boycott of Israel and for Arab states to break off all ties with the Jewish state over the 18-month Palestinian intifada.
Fourteen Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, promised to send their foreign ministers to the Cairo meeting, an Arab diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
For their part, the Palestinians hope this weekend's meeting will insure "protection for Yasser Arafat, the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people," Nabil Shaath, Palestinian international cooperation minister, said in Cairo Friday.
"We are going to ask our Arab brothers to work for the protection of Yasser Arafat, to protect the Palestinian Authority and help the reconstruction," he said.
Shaath urged Arab foreign ministers to back the Palestinians with clear resolutions condemning Israel's military offensive in the West Bank.
"We need a clear political position from you," Palestinian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Nabil Shaath told the opening session. "This battle may be the last battle not only for Palestine... but also for Arab national security. I am certain the meeting will take clear resolutions," Shaath added.
League sources said on Saturday the meeting would call for the provision of international protection for the Palestinian people, an end to the blockade of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian territories.
Arab officials and League sources have said Arab foreign ministers would welcome a new U.S.-led push for Middle East peace and stress Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation.
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