Arab League Decides to Dispatch Envoys to US, EU and UN
The Arab League decided Saturday at a special session to send envoys to the United States, United Nations and European Union to explain the gravity of the Mideast situation and renewed demands for an international force in the Palestinian territories.
Arab League Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid said the envoys would head to Washington, New York and Brussels "as soon as possible."
"We are in a race against time," he told reporters after the three-hour meeting.
"I don't rule out that (Israeli Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon will burn himself as he plays with fire. The Palestinian people shall not die; it's Sharon who will be put aside," Abdel Meguid said.
The special session of the Arab League, held at the level of permanent representatives, was called by Beirut and Damascus after Israel bombed a Syrian position in Lebanon early Monday, killing at least one.
The Israeli raid was in reprisal for an attack by the Damascus-based Lebanese militant movement Hizbollah that killed an Israeli soldier in a disputed border zone.
A statement published after the League meeting said the Israeli strike was "a provocation threatening the security of the entire region" and pledged support for "the legitimate Lebanese resistance."
But the Arab League meeting focused on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and called for an international force to be deployed in the occupied territories to "protect" the population.
"The situation is serious," added Mohamed Sobeih, the Palestinian ambassador to the League, saying Sharon had issued "threats ... not only against the Palestinians but also against Lebanon and Syria."
"There have also been words against Egypt and Jordan," the two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel, he said.
The final statement called on the United States, Israel's chief ally, "to stop delivering to Israel weapons used in its repeated aggression against Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian people."
It called on the international community to condemn Israel for its actions and "assure an international protection" for the Palestinians.
Sobeih said the Palestinians wanted the UN Security Council to convene and discuss another resolution to send an international force.
The last time the Security Council publicly discussed the Middle East crisis was on March 28, when the United States used its veto power for the first time in four years to defeat a draft resolution to send UN observers to the Palestinian territories.
According to Arab diplomats in Cairo speaking on condition of anonymity, the Palestinians are ready to be more flexible in the wording of a new resolution in hopes of avoiding a US veto. In particular, they are ready to drop the explicit wording "international protection."
"What is essential today for the Palestinians is that there be an international commitment in their conflict with Israel and that there be measures on the ground to stop the Israeli escalation," one diplomat told AFP.
Abdel Meguid said he expressed hope to Annan that the United States will not veto another UN resolution on the Palestinians.
"Mr. Annan showed understanding and promised to convey our point of view to Washington and the Security Council members," the Arab League chief said, adding that he had informed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of his talks with Annan.
The Arabs take heart in US Secretary of State Colin Powell's harsh rebuke of Israel on Tuesday, calling its massive offensive in the Gaza Strip in response to a mortar attack "excessive and disproportionate."
His condemnation prompted Israel to end the operation -- the first reoccupation of Palestinian lands since the 1994 establishment of the self-rule Palestinian Authority -- after less than 24 hours.
"The United States adopted a positive position by criticizing Israel," Abdel Meguid said.
The Arab League meeting comes as Israeli and Palestinian officials both confirmed secret talks to put an end to seven months of clashes that have left more than 480 people dead, most of them Palestinians – CAIRO (AFP)
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