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From davemull@alphalink.com.au Sat Oct 21 13:26:30 2000
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 18:41:31 -0500 (CDT)
Organization: South Movement
From: David Muller <davemull@alphalink.com.au>
Subject: [southnews] Arab states prepare to back Palestinians
Article: 107285
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Arab states prepare to back Palestinians

By Ross Runn, Sydney Morning Herald,
21 October 2000

The Arab world is poised to declare strong solidarity with the Palestinians in their fight against Israel, while warning that the conflict must not plunge the entire region into war.

A declaration to this effect is expected at the end of a two-day emergency meeting of Arab nations that opens in Cairo today.

The United States has urged moderate Arab leaders to prevent the summit adopting extreme positions that would further isolate Israel, and to encourage militant Palestinians to adhere to a ceasefire agreement.

Among those fighting to maintain a conciliatory tone is the conference host, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, who said Arab leaders must to try to restart peacemaking with Israel, rather than heed calls to go to war.

A declaration of war is not a game, he said.

The concept of war is an ancient one. Issues are only resolved through negotiations and international pressure. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel.

A few other Arab nations have low-level economic ties with Israel, but militant Arab countries are urging them to sever these following the latest violence. More than 100 people have died in the recent unrest, most of them Palestinians.

The Syrian Foreign Minister, Mr Farouk al-Shara, joined those calling for a break in Arab-Israeli relations, saying Arab states should even ban handshakes.

At the same time, he reaffirmed his country's commitment to trading land with Israel in exchange for peace.

The summit is the first of its kind since 1996 and the first for a decade to which all Arab countries have been invited.

The conference aims to forge a joint stand over what delegates describe as Israel's failure to honour peace deals with the Palestinians and its excessive use of force to quell rioting.

It comes at a critical time, with a 48-hour period to test a truce between Israel and the Palestinians due to end yesterday. The ceasefire was agreed at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh this week.

While there has been a general decrease in the violence, the accord has not halted fighting, with security chiefs from both sides struggling to restore order.

One Palestinian and a Jewish settler died during a fierce gun-battle on Thursday. Israeli combat helicopters traded heavy fire with Palestinian gunmen in a five-hour shoot-out during a mission to rescue Jewish settlers trapped on a hillside near the West Bank town of Nablus.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak, said the Palestinians had committed a gross violation of the Sharm el-Sheikh truce. Palestinians accused the Israelis of firing first.

While the unrest has provoked popular outrage across the Arab world, Palestinian delegates are also calling for a continuation of dialogue with Israel.

*Mark Riley reports from Gaza: In a significant conciliatory move, the Palestinian Authority chairman, Mr Yasser Arafat, urged the cancellation of a Palestinian rally that was to be held at the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

In what was shaping up as a dangerous flashpoint, the Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin had urged followers to protest against the Sharm el-Sheikh peace agreement, and distributed flyers calling on worshippers to take up their weapons and double the intifada against the Israelis.

But officials from the Palestinian Authority went to the mosque and warned worshippers that any violence was likely to draw fire from Israeli helicopter gunships.