The Arab League opened a special meeting Saturday in the wake of an Israeli raid on a Syrian military position in Lebanon, with efforts to secure international "protection" for the Palestinians topping the agenda, said AFP.
Arab League Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid said he received a telephone call from UN chief Kofi Annan inquiring about the Arab League meeting, held at the level of permanent ambassadors and called at the request of Syria and Lebanon.
"I told him that the principal request of the Arabs is the guarantee of international protection for the Palestinians in the face of repeated Israeli aggression," Abdel Meguid told AFP.
Mohamed Sobeih, the Palestinian ambassador to the Arab League, said he would ask the meeting in its final statement to "request the holding of a Security Council meeting in order to assure international protection for the Palestinians."
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, according to the agency. In particular, they are ready to drop the explicit wording "international protection," they said.
"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 President 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 was called after Israel bombed a Syrian position east of Beirut Monday, killing at least one Syrian soldier.
The operation was in response to an attack last Saturday by the Lebanese movement Hizbollah on the disputed Shabaa Farms area, killing an Israeli soldier.
After the operation, US President George W. Bush telephoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to urge restraint, but the Syrian leader told him such calls were "useless" unless action were taken against Israel, according to the official Syrian SANA news agency.
Meanwhile, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said Thursday that Israel should know "clearly and once and for all" that it would not achieve security by using force and disclosed "secret" offers to barter protection for Israel in exchange for a permanent Syrian presence in Lebanon, reported The Daily Star.
Speaking at the opening of a weekly cabinet session, Lahoud revealed that more than two months ago, both Lebanon and Syria had rejected offers through diplomatic channels proposing a quid pro quo "a permanent Syrian presence in Lebanon in exchange for permanent Lebanese and Syrian protection for the security of northern Israel."
"We rejected these offers and said at the time that such a presence is linked to the strategy of confrontation, not with an exchange between Israel's security and Syria remaining here.
"We say the same thing about an offer made openly by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres two days ago and affirm that the resistance is continuing and the exchange is rejected," the president said.
Lahoud said that Israel's air strike "will not prevent us from adhering to our firm position based on doing away with Israeli occupation of territory, a return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and releasing prisoners held in Israeli jails."
"Without all of these rights and without resorting to the principles of a comprehensive and just peace in the region, Israel should know clearly and once and for all that it will not achieve security by force, regardless of its aggression and escalation."
The president said Israel would be held responsible for its "aggression and escalation in occupied territory as well as for its attempts to introduce new formulas which will be rejected by us, through resistance and diplomatic and other legitimate means."
"Israel's interior will not be safe if our own interior is subject to any aggression," he warned.
In turn, Premier Rafiq Hariri was quoted by the paper as telling the cabinet that since Ariel Sharon came to power this year, Israel was following a "suicidal policy that would not lead to a solution." -- Albawaba.com
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