Libyans Walk Out of Summit Meeting

Saturday, October 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — The Arab summit being held here stopped short of calling for breaking ties with Israel, Libyan delegates said Saturday after walking out of the meeting because they wanted strong action against Israel.

The walkout signaled that moderates like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were prevailing at the summit, called amid outrage at violence that has killed scores of Palestinians. Earlier Saturday, Mubarak blamed Israel for bringing the peace process to a standstill but said Arabs would not abandon the path of negotiations.

``The summit does not include a clear condemnation of Israel, or at least propose cutting diplomatic relations, which is the minimum that can be done at such a focal point,'' the Libyan delegation said in a statement. ``While our Palestinian brethren are still dying every day, and Arab public opinion is still enraged by the Israeli activities, the Arab leadership is passive and quiet.''

The Libyan statement made it clear that a final declaration — the main work of the two-day summit — had been completed and agreed upon by most of the delegations.

Mubarak opened the summit earlier Saturday, a day after efforts to bring calm were shattered by one of the worst days of violence in the West Bank since fighting erupted there three weeks ago. Clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continued as the leaders met in Cairo: Two Palestinians were killed Saturday, and tens of thousands of others marched behind the bodies of comrades who died days earlier.

The summit drew 15 heads of state from among the Arab League's 22 members. With Israel watching carefully, the Arab leaders who gathered here for the first time in four years were trying to strike a balance between keeping the peace process alive and assuaging an angry Arab public demanding strong measures against the Jewish state.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said his people were facing ``the worst kinds of mass killings, shelling, in addition to severe siege.'' Still, he said, ``Our choice is the choice of permanent, just and comprehensive peace.''

``Our aim is to liberate our land, set up our independent state ... with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of refugees,'' Arafat said, speaking after Mubarak and after a moment of silence in commemoration of Palestinian dead.

A grave-looking Mubarak called on Israel to prove that it, too, wanted peace.

Mubarak warned that Israel was showing a trend ``toward provocation'' by closing off the Palestinian territories, ``terrorizing innocent civilians and killing defenseless children and letting loose extremists settlers armed with guns.''

``We insist on guarantees that this not be repeated under any circumstances,'' he said.

The speech — one of the most important of Mubarak's career — followed the collapse of a cease-fire he and President Clinton helped broker this week at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheik resort. Friday saw some of the heaviest fighting in an already bloody month. Palestinian militiamen fired on Israeli soldiers, drawing massive return fire that left nine Palestinians dead and 103 wounded.

Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. It has since tried to mediate peace negotiations between the Jewish state and Syria and the Palestinians.

But in the wake of the violence, Arab leaders are under great pressure to justify even the lowest level of contacts with Israel.

Drafts of the summit's final declaration, reports say, call for a return to the days of boycott against Israel. They reportedly call for Arab countries with trade offices in Tel Aviv to recall their representatives and for Egypt and Jordan, the only countries with diplomatic relations, to halt already faltering steps to encourage business and cultural exchanges.

``All kinds of cooperation with Israel should be stopped and the boycott should be reactivated,'' Syrian President Bashar Assad said, repeating the hard-line stance of his late father, whom he succeeded earlier this year.

On the streets, ordinary Arabs were calling for much more.

``The only way to liberate Jerusalem is through holy war,'' crowds chanted in San'a, Yemen on Saturday during an anti-summit, anti-Israel and anti-American protest that drew thousands.

In demonstrations across the region, Arabs initially directed their anger at Israel, their emotions fueled by satellite television images of young Palestinian protesters gunned down by the Israeli army. Recently, the anger has also been directed at Arab governments seen as too soft on Israel.

Mubarak acknowledged that ``we are all angry'' but warned against ``surrendering to our emotions.''

``We must as people who have rights continue on the long road toward our legitimate rights and let no passing provocation sway us from it, because right in the end is what triumphs,'' he said.

At the summit, the Libyans were among a minority calling for strong action against Israel. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in a speech read by his deputy, Izzat Ibrahim, called Saturday for liberating Palestinians from Israel ``through holy war.''

It takes a crisis to bring Arab leaders together, and crises inevitably reveal the hollowness of Arab pledges to take unified stances.

The last Arab League summit in 1996 struggled to forge a united stand on peace with Israel. The previous summit, in 1990, saw the Arabs split over one league member's invasion of another — Iraq's move into Kuwait. Since then, Kuwait and other Gulf states have refused to sit down with Iraq, derailing attempts to hold more regular summits.