(AFP) – Jan 16, 2009
DOHA (AFP) — A summit on Israel's deadly offensive against Gaza opened in the Qatari capital on Friday with Hamas exiled leader Khaled Meshaal vowing that the Islamist movement would not accept Israel's conditions for a ceasefire.
"I assure you, despite all the destruction in Gaza, we will not accept Israel's conditions for a ceasefire," the Damascus-based leader told the gathering which included some of Israel's most hardline foes.
The summit, attended by Israel's vehement foe Iranian President Mahmoud Adhmadinejad and 13 of the Arab League's 22 members, went ahead despite objections of the Palestinian leadership and regional heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
"We tell our loved ones in Gaza, the aggression will soon crash on the rock of your steadfastness," Meshaal said at the opening of the meeting.
"Our demands are: That the aggression stops, that the enemy retreats completely from Gaza, that the blockade is lifted without ever returning to it, and that the border crossing at Rafah (on the Egyptian border) is opened," Meshaal said, adding that only Egyptian and Palestinian forces are to supervise the border.
The presence of Hamas's leadership and the absence of the Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmud Abbas, highlighted the divisions between the Arab countries, Qatar and Syria backing Hamas and Egypt and Saudi Arabia backing Abbas.
Qatar failed to secure the necessary quorum to make the summit an official meeting of the Arab League, falling short by two member countries, but determinedly pushing ahead.
"We would have favoured the participation of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbad, however he decided not to come," Qatar's Emir said in his opening address.
Palestinian ambassador Munir Ghanem told AFP that Abbas would stay away.
At the summit, giant TV screens played images of the 21-day-old Gaza conflict during which Israeli attacks have killed more than 1,100 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians and including 355 children, Palestinian emergency services say. Another 5,000 people have been wounded.
The official Qatar News Agency said that the leaders of Algeria, Comoros, Lebanon, Mauritania, Sudan and Syria were attending the summit while Djibouti, Iraq and Libya had sent senior officials.
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, whose country currently presides over the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), also arrived in Doha for the summit.
Non-Arab Iran and Turkey were also taking part with Ankara sending an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"This meeting is the fruit of Qatari, Arab, Syrian and Islamic determination ... in defiance of all the pressures exercised to prevent it," said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallam, in Doha for the summit.
Qatar had been pressing for an emergency Arab summit on the Gaza crisis since soon after Israel launched its offensive on December 27. But it has repeatedly run into opposition from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have been strongly critical of Hamas ever since the Islamist movement seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in June 2007.
Arab League chief Amr Mussa acknowledged that there was "chaos" in Arab ranks over the Gaza crisis as Arab foreign ministers gathered in Kuwait City for a separate, official meeting.
The "Arab situation is in a very big chaos," Mussa told reporters as he entered the talks, which began two hours late. "It is regrettable and harmful."
That ministers' meeting was supposed to prepare for an Arab summit on Gaza due to convene alongside a long-scheduled economic summit in Kuwait City on Monday.
Ministers discussed "steps that should be taken after Israel rejected UN Security Council Resolution 1860," that called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, delegates said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called on fellow ministers in Kuwait to "look into the possibility of going back to the Security Council to try and issue another resolution to enforce a ceasefire."
In a speech delivered during the closed-door session and obtained by AFP, Prince Saud also proposed the setting up of an Arab fund for the rebuilding of Gaza.
Meanwhile 5,000 people on Friday staged the largest demonstration in the Kuwaiti capital since the start of the Israeli attacks, chanting slogans against them and against the silence of Arab regimes.
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