Muslim foreign ministers reiterated calls Monday for an international force to protect the Palestinian people, and urged the United States to accept the legitimacy of their struggle against Israeli attacks and occupation.
"Our people have no other choice but to resist (Israeli) aggression and occupation," Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in a speech read out on his behalf by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat at the ministerial meeting convened in Qatar to discuss the Palestinian plight.
"It's a legitimate right," he said.
Arafat reiterated his call for a force to protect Palestinians through the establishment of an "international mechanism that will force Israel to put an end to its aggression against the Palestinian people, its National Authority and its president."
The demand for international protection for the Palestinians tops a draft statement that the ministers of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference have drawn up under heated discussion, participants told AFP.
However, the deployment of such a force has so far been ruled out by Israel and Washington, whose support for the Jewish state has enraged Arab public opinion.
The draft form urges "a halt to Israeli aggressions against Palestinians, the end of settlement and the implementation of the Mitchell report and Tenet plan," to relaunch dialogue between the warring parties, a source told AFP.
The Tenet plan -- drawn up by US CIA chief George Tenet -- proposes a six-week cooling-off period between Israel and the Palestinians to be followed by implementation of confidence-building measures called for by the Mitchell panel, headed by former US senator and Northern Ireland peace mediator George Mitchell.
The Mitchell report calls for an immediate ceasefire, an Israeli freeze on settlement building and full Palestinian efforts to prevent "terrorism" in order to move back to the negotiating table.
In his speech, Arafat also demanded that the two initiatives be applied, stressing his desire for a negotiated settlement with the Jewish state.
"Despite the crimes and terrorism of Israeli occupation, our commitment to a fair and comprehensive peace, that of the brave, remains firm and strong. Peace is a strategic choice," he said.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani urged the US administration, without naming it, to admit that "the struggle against occupation is legitimate."
Blasting Israel's "massacres" against the Palestinians, the emir called for international intervention to put an "immediate end" to attacks on the Palestinians.
He also urged ministers to set up a ministerial committee to draw up a mechanism for the re-establishment of peace in the Middle East based on UN Security Council resolutions.
However the draft, which also urges a return to the negotiating table, clearly raised concerns in some delegations over "the prospects for a halt to the violence", one official said.
"Occupation is the cause of terrorism," said PLO political chief Faruq Kaddumi, adding that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy of "assassinations and destruction" fed the violence.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara denounced US support for Israel as "terrorism" against the Palestinian people.
But Algeria's Foreign Minister Abdel Aziz BelKhadem warned that the United States has interests in the Arab world and noted "a change in the West in favour of a Palestinian state ... which must be made concrete."
The desire of some mainly Arab countries not to attack Washington, which has backed Israel's right to self-defence against the Palestinians, led to the cancellation of an Arab League emergency meeting set for Sunday in Doha on the sidelines of the OIC meeting, participants said.
Palestinians blame Israel for the bloodshed which in turn blames leaders of the intifada and Islamic groups who carried out the latest suicide attacks.
The divided Arabs even failed to hold "consultations" which had been announced to replace the more formal 22-member Arab League session. Some delegations suggested an Arab meeting might still be held Monday -- DOHA (AFP)
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