AMMAN, March 26 (iviews.com) - Arab leaders from around the region arrived here today for a summit expected to concentrate on their respective causes.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Kuwait's emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah arrived on Monday and Sudanese President Omar el-Beshir and his Yemeni counterpart Ali Abdullah Saleh had arrived earlier to attend the first ordinary Arab summit with Iraq attending since 1990.
Seven of the 22 heads of state in the Arab League are staying away from the summit and sending senior delegates to represent them at the meeting which will be dominated by Iraq's stormy ties with Kuwait and the Palestinian uprising against Israel. The summit is the first to be attended by delegates from Iraq and Kuwait since the 1991 Gulf war ended Iraqi occupation of the emirate and was preceded by two days of bitter consultations on a resolution acceptable to both sides. It also convenes just 20 days after the election victory in Israel of Ariel Sharon, the new prime minister who holds hawkish views on peace with the Arabs, most of whom consider him a war criminal.
According to a final communiqu drafted by foreign ministers preparing for the summit, the leaders will renew their support for the Palestinian uprising in line with similar calls made at an emergency summit in Cairo in October. Syria's official newspapers on Monday urged Arab leaders to put into practice the decision to boycott Israel that they are expected to take at their upcoming summit in Amman. The ruling Baath party newspaper al-Baath slammed those "who are trying to cast doubts on the summit's usefulness," in a reference to press reports saying the boycott decision would not be compulsory because of Jordan and Egypt, which have signed peace treaties with Israel.
"What would prevent the boycott weapon from being reactivated?" asked al-Baath. "The Arab masses consider this measure as the least of things" the Arab leaders can do against Israel, it added.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Monday that his country favored Syria's proposal to reactivate an economic boycott of Israel by Arab countries.
"We support the Syrian proposal ... relating to firm action on the Arab economic boycott of Israel," suspended in the Middle East peace process, Al-Hayat newspaper quoted Prince Saud as saying.
The proposal was included in a draft resolution calling for the reactivation of a measure under which Arab countries will be asked to boycott Israeli companies as well as foreign firms doing business with Israel.
The resolution, drafted by Arab foreign ministers meeting Saturday and Sunday, will be submitted to Arab leaders at the March 27-28 summit for ratification.
"The boycott (of Israel) is a powerful and peaceful weapon that we should not give up," Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara had said Sunday.
"The boycott of Israel will soon be reactivated because it is a necessary tool to establish peace," he said without spelling out the modalities of an eventual boycott.
Prince Saud also warned that "if Israel continues to block the peace process in a way that brings about its failure, it will have chosen confrontation."
"Arab countries have made peace a strategic choice," Prince Saud said, stressing that "the Arabs have faced up to Israel for 70 years and are ready to continue doing that for a further 70 years."
But officials and analysts concede that any decision on a boycott must be non-binding, particularly for Egypt and Jordan, who have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state.
"Even if the summit agrees to endorse the Syrian proposal of boycott I don't expect it to be imposed on Egypt and Jordan, because if they fail to meet their obligations towards Israel it will backfire on them," an Arab diplomat said.
"If Jordan and Egypt do not respect the economic terms of their treaties with Israel, Israel will stop respecting the political terms of the treaties," the diplomat added.
Meanwhile, thousands of Isla,mist students in Cairo burned effigies of Israeli hardliner Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the weekend while urging Arab leaders to take a firm stand against him at their upcoming summit in Jordan.
The students at Cairo university also burned Israeli and US flags and hurled stones at police, injuring one officer, when they were barred from taking their protest off campus, security sources said.
Similar anti-Israeli protests were also staged at universities in Alexandria as well as the cities of Menufiya and Zagazig in the Nile delta, AFP reporters said.
Islamist students at Cairo University distributed a statement called "Appeal before the Summit" urging Arab leaders to support "a just peace and not a peace imposed by occupation troops."
"The enemy has declared war against our (Palestinian) brothers and blocked peace. Are we going to still insist that peace is our choice," the statement said.
The paper also denounced remarks by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on March 9 to US Congress, calling for a future transfer of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood urged Arab leaders "to support the Palestinian uprising at the political and financial levels."
The Brotherhood statement also urged Arab leaders to "work for a reconciliation between Iraq and Kuwait" and to "define their policy toward the United States depending on its positions regarding Arab causes."
Arab leaders have also threatened to cut ties with countries that set up embassies in Jerusalem or recognize the city as Israel's capital, according to a draft resolution adopted Sunday ahead of an Arab summit.
"The Arab leaders reaffirm their attachment to UN Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem ... that consider null and void all steps taken by Israel to change the status" of Jerusalem, said the text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
"And they call on all the countries around the world not to transfer their embassies to Jerusalem," which is one of the main bone of contention between Israel and the Palestinians.
The resolution reaffirmed Arab summit decisions adopted in Amman 1980, in Baghdad in 1990 and last October in Cairo "concerning a break in ties with the countries that transfer their embassies to Jerusalem or recognize it as the capital of Israel."
US President George W. Bush last week said he was determined to keep a campaign pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, raising a storm of protests from many Arab countries including Jordan.
Earlier this month US Secretary of State Colin Powell infuriated the Arab world on March 8 when he told a congressional committee Bush was committed to moving Washington's "embassy to the capital of Israel, which is Jerusalem".
Arab countries claim the eastern part of Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and later illegally annexed, is Arab territory and that its future must be determined in accordance with UN resolutions to that effect.
Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem as its "undivided and eternal capital" is not internationally recognized, while the Palestinians want to make the eastern sector the capital of their future independent state.
The resolution which was drafted by Arab foreign ministers will be submitted to Arab heads of state who hold a two-day summit in Amman starting Tuesday.
They are also set to call for a lifting of crippling UN sanctions on Iraq but will stop short from taking unilateral action on the embargo despite insistence from Baghdad.
A senior Iraqi envoy held talks with Jordan's Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb on the eve of an Arab summit Monday as Arab ministers hoped to finalize consultations on a,n elusive resolution regarding Iraq.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz held talks with Abu Ragheb at his office in Amman, a Jordanian official told AFP. There were no immediate details about the discussions.
Aziz, considered to be Iraq's top political strategist, arrived late Sunday in Amman to examine a draft resolution on Iraq, approved by Kuwait, that has divided Arab ranks over the past two days, an Arab minister told AFP.
A senior Arab official meanwhile expressed optimism that Iraq would give a positive reply on a draft resolution concerning its ties with Kuwait in a bid "to safeguard Arab harmony for the interest of the (Arab) nation".
"We have indications that lead us to believe that Iraq will give a positive response to the draft resolution concerning its ties with Kuwait," the official told AFP as Iraqi delegates pored over the document.
The document, he said, contains four main points that were also endorsed by Kuwait's main Gulf Arab ally Saudi Arabia, but a fifth clause requested by Iraq has been left out.
It calls for the implementation of the Arab League's charter concerning the respect of regional security and the sovereignty of each country over its territory, urges the UN Security Council to lift sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990, requests an investigation into the fate of hundreds of prisoners who Kuwait says are held by Iraq and the resumption of Iraqi commercial flights.
Iraq asked but failed to get approval for a fifth resolution calling on the Arab countries "to unilaterally break the sanctions" imposed by the United Nations on Baghdad for its invasion of Kuwait, the official said.
Aziz was preceded in Amman by Ezzat Ibrahim, the Iraqi number two and vice president of Baghdad's ruling Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).
Their presence in Jordan two days before the start of Tuesday's summit, added urgency to efforts by Arab foreign ministers for a compromise.
After two days of wrangling the ministers seemed closer to consensus late Sunday and a small group met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf in a last-ditch effort to chart the resolution.
"Consultations are still underway and efforts are being deployed to reach a balanced formula that will take into consideration the concerns of both parties," Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Ilah al-Khatib said late Sunday.
"The consultations are at a very delicate stage so the less we talk about it the better," Khatib said as he emerged from a plenary session that approved the summit's final communiqu.
"We have approved the draft of the summit's final communiqu on all the questions on our agenda except for the relations between Iraq and Kuwait," Khatib said.
Iraq has demanded Arab endorsement of an end to UN economic sanctions imposed on Baghdad since the invasion, a lifting of US and British air patrols over its territory and the resumption of commercial flights.
Kuwait wants Arab security guarantees and information on the fate of around 600 prisoners it says are being detained in Iraq since the liberation of the emirate in February 1991.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faysal said the Gulf monarchies were ready to endorse Iraq's calls for an end to the sanctions on condition that Baghdad complies with the terms of the UN resolutions.
Arab leaders are also demanding international sanctions imposed on Libya be lifted and the release of a Libyan sentenced to life in prison over the Lockerbie bombing, according to a draft resolution adopted Sunday ahead of an Arab summit.
The resolution will be submitted to the summit that convenes Tuesday and Wednesday in Amman for ratification.
It calls on the UN Se,curity Council to "lift the sanctions imposed on Libya that are no longer justified since Libya has met all it obligations," according to a copy of the text obtained by AFP. The sanctions were suspended in April 1999 after the Libyan authorities handed over two suspects for trial by a Scottish court in The Hague in connection with the 1988 mid-air bombing of a US passenger plane that killed 270 people.
In January the court convicted and sentenced to life in prison one of the suspects and acquitted the second one.
The Arab leaders are now demanding the release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.
AFP contributed to this report.