Leaders of the Arab world prepared to sit down together Tuesday, March 27, determined to heal old wounds between Iraq and Kuwait and lend a crutch to the Palestinians, crippled by an Israeli economic blockade and six months of violence.
The first ordinary Arab summit since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 has already been overshadowed by Baghdad's refusal to accept anything less than a unilateral Arab lifting of international sanctions imposed after the invasion.
But Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shara said the simple fact that the summit had discussed the decade-old rift between the arch foes was a "form of reconciliation" on the road to a full mending of ties.
"It's not a question of success or failure," Shara said, adding that a resolution on Iraq may or may not be included in the summit's final reckoning. "I urge you to focus on the clear and first-rate final communiqué which we have toiled over," he said, referring to a set of resolutions, many regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on which Arab foreign ministers have agreed unanimously.
Although they remain divided over Iraq, Arab leaders are united over their support for the six-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israel, that has cost 445 lives, most of them Palestinian.
The summit, which convenes just 20 days after hard-line right-winger Ariel Sharon was sworn in as Israeli prime minister, is expected to take tough positions towards the Jewish state.
The draft final communiqué has endorsed Syria's call to reactivate an Arab boycott of Israel to force Sharon to return to the negotiating table on the basis of land-for-peace that launched the Arab-Israeli peace process in 1991.
It also calls on the United Nations to bring Israeli "war criminals" to trial. Most Arabs hold Sharon responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which the Israeli premier orchestrated as defense minister.
The summit will support Palestinian calls for the UN Security Council to send an international protection force to the region, a demand strongly opposed by Israel and the United States. In New York, Security Council members searched for a consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but diplomats said there was little chance of finding it before the Arab summit opens on Tuesday.
Israel on Monday accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of stepping up "terror and violence," as a baby was killed by Palestinian gunfire in the divided city of Hebron and more Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire.
Arab leaders, who are due to meet Tuesday and Wednesday, also threw their backing behind an Iraqi decision to donate a billion euros (around $900 million) to the Palestinians on top of a billion dollars pledged by the last Arab summit in Cairo last year.
Arab leaders will call for a speeding up in payments to the funds for the Palestinians, who complain they have only received one percent of the billion dollars, five months after it was pledged.
Libyan leader Moammar Kadhafi, who refused to attend the last Arab summit in Cairo last year complaining that Arab leaders were taking too soft a line with Israel, meanwhile pitched his tent in the grounds of Jordan's Raghadan Palace, ready to attend the summit. — (AFP, Amman)
by Peter King
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)