Arab Summit Brings Kuwait, Arafat Another Step Closer to Reconciliation
The Arab summit in Cairo at which Kuwait pledged strong support for the Palestinians has brought the emirate another step closer to reconciliation with Yasser Arafat after a 10-year row, diplomats said Sunday.
The acting prime minister, Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, delivered Kuwait's speech on Saturday at the emergency summit after a traditionally warm Arab embrace with the Palestinian leader.
Pictures of the embrace, the second in five months between the two men, made the front pages of five of Kuwait's seven Arabic and English newspapers, although without comment.
Kuwait "strongly condemns these brutal and aggressive Israeli practices, and affirms that we are required to adopt (measures) that provide protection to the brotherly Palestinian people," Sheikh Sabah said in his speech.
"We must take sufficient guarantees to (ensure) these Israeli aggressions are not repeated against Islamic holy sites and the Palestinian people," he told the summit, convened to unite Arabs ranks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In May, Arafat and Sheikh Sabah already shook hands twice for the first time in 10 years during Yemen's unity celebrations in May.
Sheikh Sabah, who was criticizing by some MPs back home for the handshake, later described it as "a protocol gesture" and not a sign of improved ties with the Palestinian leadership.
But the two sides now appear to be headed for reconciliation, diplomats said.
"There has definitely been a positive change in Kuwait's public opinion during the past three weeks. I believe this could pave the way for a reconciliation," an Arab diplomat posted in Kuwait told AFP.
Kuwait has restored normal ties with Jordan, Yemen and Sudan, the Arab states accused of backing Iraq in its seven-month occupation of Kuwait, but relations with the Palestinians remain frozen.
The emirate regarded Arafat as Baghdad's strongest sympathizer after the Iraqi invasion of August 1990 and has demanded that he offer a public apology for his stance, something the Palestinian leader has refused to do.
But before leaving for the Arab summit, Sheikh Sabah already left the door open for a rapprochement with Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
"There are no differences between us and the Palestinian Authority. There were some disputes in the past, which did not mean a dispute between Kuwait and its government with the Palestinian people," he said.
Kuwaitis have held several rallies in the past three weeks in protest at Israel's killings of more than 110 Palestinians in the Intifada (uprising), despite lingering bitterness toward the Palestinian leadership.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled after the 1991 Gulf War which liberated Kuwait, today leaving around 70,000 Palestinians and Jordanians of Palestinian origin who still work in the oil-rich Gulf state -- KUWAIT CITY (AFP)
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