Assad opens Arab summit: Syria ready to help in Lebanon
The 20th Arab summit opened in Damascus on Saturday in the absence of half of the region's leaders, who blame Syria for the political crisis in Lebanon. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is hosting the leaders of Algeria, the Comoros, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders stayed away.
In his speech during the opening session of the summit, the Syrian leader said that his country was ready to cooperate to help end a political crisis in Lebanon. "We in Syria are fully prepared to cooperate with Arab or non-Arab efforts... on condition that they are based on Lebanese national consensus, the basis for stability in Lebanon," Assad said.
The Syrian leader also slammed Israel for its refusal to deal with the Arab peace proposals. "Peace will not come except through withdrawal from occupied Arab land and giving back (Arab) rights," he said.
Assad warned that Arab countries may have to seek alternatives to a 2002 Arab peace plan if Israel continues to refuse to accept it. The proposal offers Israel full peace with Arab nations if it withdraws from Arab lands and allows the creation of a Palestinian state. "The question is: Do we leave the peace process and initiatives hostage to the whims of successive Israeli governments, or do we search for choices and substitutes that can achieve a just and comprehensive peace?" Assad said.
On his part, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa proposed that Arab foreign ministers meet in mid-2008 to evaluate the Israeli-Arab peace process.
"We must know in which direction we are moving," Moussa said. "If there is progress, we will welcome it. If there is not, then Arabs may have to take painful positions."
"No one will blame us for a decisive position we will take," he said. "What have we achieved? So far, nothing ... Things are not reassuring."