Syria to Palestinians: Quit Mideast peace talks, resume violence
Arab League defers vote on resuming peace process; Abbas aide: We won't listen to 'special agendas'.
Syria and Libya teamed up Sunday to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to quit peace talks with Israel and return to violence, delegates to an Arab leadership summit said.
In the wake of that call, Arab leaders gathered at their summit Sirte, Libya on Sunday failed to reach a consensus on whether the Palestinians should resume stalled talks with Israel.
An adviser to the U.S.-backed Palestinian leader quickly rejected the suggestion, calling for the 22 nations represented at the gathering to be realistic. Despite the opposition from two of Israel's longtime foes, the summit had been expected Sunday to renew backing for Palestinian peace talks with Israel.
The Arab League has now scheduled an extraordinary summit for later this year to tackle issues it had been unable to resolve during its two days of meeting.
A committee of foreign ministers from some member states produced a resolution at the meeting saying that a halt to all settlement activity was necessary for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to go ahead.
But that decision was not adopted by the full summit and, in a sign of the lack of consensus, Syria's foreign minister said his country would not recognize the document as representing the view of the Arab League.
The calls to abandon the effort reflected the depth of frustration and anger over the stalled process and continued Israeli construction in areas claimed by the Palestinians, particularly East Jerusalem.
Syrian President Bashar Assad urged Abbas to withdraw from a U.S.-supported peace strategy and resume armed resistance to Israel, according to two delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
They said Assad also urged Arab countries to halt any contacts with Israel, though only Cairo and Amman have peace deals with Israel.
"The price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace," one delegate quoted Assad as telling Abbas.
Summit host Moammar Gadhafi of Libya warned that his nation will withdraw support for an initiative launched at a 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut calling for exchanging land for peace with Israel, the delegates said.
Senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh dismissed the pressure. "Let us be realistic. We will not follow those who have special agendas," he told Al-Jazeera television.
"We are ready for any Arab option. If they want to go to war let them declare that and mobilize their armies and their people and we will follow suit," Abu Rdeneh said.
Earlier this month, Arab nations opened the door for Abbas to enter four months of indirect, American-brokered peace talks with Israel. But they later threatened to withdraw support for the negotiations after Israel announced plans for new homes in East Jerusalem.
Speaking at the summit Saturday, Abbas urged Mideast peace brokers to push Israel to stop settlement construction, and he vowed that the Palestinians will not sign any peace deal with Israel unless the occupation of East Jerusalem ended.
He accused Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu's government of trying to create a de facto situation in Jerusalem that would torpedo any future peace settlement.
The Palestinians are also asking Arab nations for millions of dollars in funding for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa urged leaders at the opening of the summit to create a new strategy to pressure Israel and stressed the peace process cannot be open ended.
The summit registered a higher than usual number of no-shows from Arab leaders. Eight heads of state stayed away, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Arab League calls for nuclear-free Mideast
Arab leaders on Sunday also called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons during a closed-door session at the Arab League summit, diplomats at the meeting said.
Many Arab countries view Israel's alleged nuclear program and Iran's nuclear programs with alarm, and have repeatedly called for an agreement to ban nuclear weapons from the region.
In their closing statements, leaders stressed that the development of nuclear weapons threatened peace and security, diplomats who attended the closed-door session told the German Press Agency DPA.
They called for a review of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to create a definitive plan for eliminating nuclear weapons development.
They further called upon the UN to hold a conference to establish the Middle East as a nuclear-weapons-free region. However, it is unclear how much weight their calls will carry with Iran or Israel, neither of which is a member in the Arab League.
Some delegations initially called for allowing a few Arab countries to possess nuclear weapons if Israel does not join the NPT within a certain period of time, but that proposal was left out of closing remarks.
One hundred eighty-nine countries, including all Arab states, are party to the NPT. Only Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not.
Arab leaders also called on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, to terminate its technical assistance programs in Israel if the country does not join the NPT and allow inspections to begin.
Leaders and representatives of the 22 members of the Arab League began their two-day summit in Sirte on Saturday.