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By Edward Yeranian
Cairo
31 December 2008

Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo on Wednesday to seek a common position in response to Israeli attacks which have killed more than 370 people in Gaza. Pressure has been mounting on Arab leaders to act decisively to stop Israel's five-day old military operation in Gaza.

The Arab world is deeply divided in its attitude towards the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza and is the main target of the Israeli assault.

Saudi Arabian FM Saud Al-Faisal (R), and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa at an emergency meeting in Cairo,31 Dec  2008
Saudi Arabian FM Saud Al-Faisal (R), and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa at an emergency meeting in Cairo, 31 Dec 2008
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal presided over the meeting, calling on feuding, rival Palestinian factions to reconcile their differences as a prelude to any possible diplomatic activity to end Israel's military operation in Gaza.


He urged Palestinian factions to hold reconciliation talks, immediately, arguing that Arab foreign ministers are powerless to help them if they don't unite. Divisions among Palestinians, he warned, will just permit Israel to vanquish them.

The normally even-tempered Saud al-Faisal condemned Israel's military blitz on Gaza, calling it a crime.

Smoke rises following an Israeli missile strike in northern Gaza, 30 Dec 2008
Smoke rises following an Israeli missile strike in northern Gaza, 30 Dec 2008
He said that what is happening in Gaza can only be described as a massacre and a crime against humanity, and it will only foster more violence and more extremism, pushing everyone further and further from the announced goal of peace and security, which the Israelis say they're trying to achieve. He asked rhetorically, "What kind of peace can be achieved with a campaign using military means that merely create death and destruction?"


Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa put the blame squarely on Israel for the Gaza conflict and condemned its conduct in the small enclave, insisting that the Israeli military was targeting ordinary citizens going about their daily business in extremely close quarters.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, 19 Dec 2008
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, 19 Dec 2008
He said that the problem is the Israeli occupation and the Israeli blockade of Gaza and everything else springs from these two problems. He also said Israel's "aggression" against the people of Gaza is hurting the entire population and he noted U.N. refugee agency reported that women, children and old people are suffering.


Moussa said Arabs should take the matter of the Israeli attacks to the U.N. Security Council, even at a risk that a resolution would face a veto from one of the five permanent members of the council.

Paul Salem, who heads the Beirut-based Carnegie Center for International Peace, thinks that Arab foreign ministers are meeting at a time when a brief window of opportunity to stop the fighting continues to narrow.

"My read is that we're in a small interim situation where there is a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity, trying to see if any beginnings of a deal can be made out; is Hamas beginning to think differently, will it climb down, will it have different positions, are the Israelis open for something? I know the Turks, you know… Erdogan is in Damascus. The Egyptians are very active. The French are very active. Livni is going to France, tomorrow. So, there certainly seems to be a lot of political activity, a lot of political smoke… which indicates that there seems to be some talk taking place while the drums of war continue to beat," he said.

Salem also said that he doubts Lebanon's Hezbollah wants to get involved in the fray, because its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told supporters that any rockets fired on Israel would merely encourage it to attack Lebanon.


Syria, he concluded, also doesn't appear eager to get involved in a conflict, either, and President Bashar al Assad has been meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a moderate and has ties with Israel, to try and find a diplomatic solution to the current conflict.

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