Text size

The Arab League said on Saturday after an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo that the Middle East peace process had failed, and called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to stop the escalating violence.

The Arab foreign ministers also adopted a resolution supporting Lebanon and the Palestinians, but also called on all parties to avoid actions that "may undermine peace and security in the region".

"We all decided that the peace process has failed and that the mechanisms, proposals and committees were either deceptive or sedatives or contrary to the peace process, or handed the process over as a gift to Israeli diplomacy to do with as it wished," Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said.

"This has led to and is leading to the collapse of stability in the Middle East... So there is no peace process," he added.

Speaking to reporters at the 22-member Arab League headquarters, Moussa said the group would turn to the UN Security Council for help.

"So we take it back to the United Nations, and maybe the date will be in September," he said.

"We are with all of Lebanon. The issue is not this faction or that. Lebanon as a whole is being subjected to a disproportionate attack," he added.

Lebanon had urged the UN Security Council to tell Israel to halt its operation, but the Council took no immediate action.

Ministers clash over Hezbollah's legitimacyMinisters at the meeting traded barbs over whether Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah bore any responsibility for the escalation in violence that followed its capture of two Israeli soldiers.

The Saudi foreign minister appeared to be leading a camp of ministers criticizing the guerrilla group's actions, calling them "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts."

"These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we cannot simply accept them," Saudi al-Faisal told his counterparts.

Supporting his stance were representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, delegates said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem lashed back al-Faisal, asking "How can we come here to discuss the burning situation in Lebanon while others are making statements criticizing the resistance?"

Moallem emerged as the leader of another camp of ministers defending Hezbollah as carrying out "legitimate acts in line with international resolutions and the UN charter, as acts of resistance," delegates said.

Salloukh, a Shiite close to the mainstream Amal faction as well as the militant Hezbollah, said Arab governments were not doing enough to protest Israel's assault on Lebanon.

"What our Arab brothers have called 'involvement' has only resulted in frustration and bitterness among Arab people," Salloukh told participants at the meeting Saturday.

"If [Arab] governments are not serious and determined... our people will sooner or later take things into their own hands," he said.

Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa issued a statement Friday calling on Israel to halt its military operations in Lebanon, and asking the UN Security Council to intervene. He met late Friday with United Nations officials in Cairo, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen.

In Kuwait, Saad Hariri, head of the anti-Syrian bloc in Lebanon's parliament, told reporters that his country "should not become a playground" for Middle East fighting.

"Israel has to understand that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but a state fighting for freedom, and the Lebanese have to unite and stay united," Hariri said.

"A clear Arab position on this [Israeli] aggression has to be issued [in the foreign ministers meeting]," he added.

Palestinian factions issued a statement Saturday calling on Arab foreign ministers to "overcome their differences, and take a united Arab position pressuring the American administration to amend its pro-Israel position, boycott Israel and support the steadfastness and resistance of the Lebanese and Palestinian people."

The groups, Islamic and secular, called on Arab governments to push for UN-sponsored negotiations to release Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners as well as the captured IDF soldiers.

In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah was to meet Saturday afternoon with Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, whose country is a top backer of Hamas and Hezbollah.

The two would discuss "the situation after Israeli forces launched attacks on Lebanon, and search for way out," a Saudi diplomat said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

Israel's Lebanon campaign, launched after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight on Wednesday, has killed at least 103 people, all but four civilians.