Qatari call for Gaza summit highlights Arab division

DUBAI (AFP) - Qatar's renewed call for an extraordinary Arab summit to discuss the Gaza bloodshed ahead of a scheduled summit in Kuwait has highlighted the divisions among Arab governments over the Palestinians. Qatar, the only Gulf Arab state with ties to Israel, called late on Monday for an extraordinary summit, in a third such plea since Israel's offensive on Gaza that has cost more than 900 Palestinian lives broke out on December 27. Doha has proposed hosting the summit on Friday, according to newspaper reports. That is the same day that Arab foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Kuwait under Arab League auspices in response to a demand also by Qatar, adding to the confusion about Arab joint action. Arab leaders will discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip at an economic summit in Kuwait next week, Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah said on Tuesday. "It is only logical and natural that Gaza will be at the heart of the Kuwait summit. The (Arab) leaders will discuss during their summit the situation there," Sheikh Mohammad told the official KUNA news agency. Arab leaders are due to hold their first ever economic summit in Kuwait on January 19 and January 20 to discuss ways to boost economic integration among Arab nations. Egypt and Saudi Arabia said they supported discussing the Gaza crisis at a Kuwait summit set for January 19, rejecting Qatar's proposal for an extraordinary summit later this week. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah said they backed talks at the Kuwait economic summit to seek a halt to the "aggression" in Gaza, in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. A top Saudi diplomat said in remarks aired on Tuesday that his country sees as "inappropriate" the Qatar-proposed meeting. "We do not see it as appropriate to hold another summit," Ahmad al-Qattan, Saudi Arabia's permanent representative at the Cairo-based Arab League, told pan-Arab al-Arabiya channel. A meeting of Arab foreign ministers should precede any meeting of Arab heads of state, who are scheduled to convene at a two-day economic summit in Kuwait on January 19, Qattan said. Egypt, whose President Hosni Mubarak was scheduled to meet with the Saudi king on Tuesday, also rejected the Qatari proposal. Egypt's foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said that Cairo prefers Arab leaders to hold talks in Kuwait City on Sunday, on the eve of an economic summit. "The Arab League has been informed of the fact that Egypt considers that the presence of Arab leaders in Kuwait on Sunday ... can be the right time for talks among those concerned by the situation in Gaza," he said in a statement. Some Arab governments back the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, while others support the Palestinian Authority's Mahmud Abbas, who is in charge of the West Bank. "The flagrant savage (Israeli) aggression against the Palestinian people triggers the necessity for convening an extraordinary summit as soon as possible," Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said on Monday. "Our problem is that there is a lack of confidence among Arabs...(and there is) Arab inability due to disagreements," he told the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera. The agreement of at least 14 of the League's 22 members is required for a summit to be convened. "All the Arab leaders are conscious of the gravity of the situation in Gaza. They are unanimous in their support of the Palestinians but divided between Hamas and the (Palestinian) Authority," said Emirati analyst Abdul Khaleq Abdallah. "Arab countries should rise above the Palestinian divisions" and hold a summit to "give a collective political message to the Palestinians of Gaza and to the rest of the world," he told AFP. Abbas plans to attend the extraordinary summit proposed by Qatar, according to Al-Jazeera reported, underscoring the deep rift between the Arabs. Meanwhile, a group of 21 Kuwaiti deputies, mostly Islamists, said in a statement that Abbas was "not welcome" in Kuwait City, where the two-day economic Arab summit is due to start on Monday. They accused him of having "a negative and weak" stance toward the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

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