BEIRUT

Middle East

Arabs slam Israel over Gaza, urge stronger stance

CAIRO: Arab foreign ministers roundly denounced Israel's campaign in Gaza in an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday and demanded a review of what they called their futile diplomacy towards the Jewish state.

The session came amid a flurry of meetings to coordinate an Arab and Turkish response to the four-day conflict in which 40 Palestinians have been killed in air strikes and three Israelis have died in Hamas rocket attacks.

Some ministers and officials at the meeting ventured into rare self-criticism at a forum more accustomed to routine denunciations of Israel.

Member states should "reconsider all past Arab initiatives on the peace process and review their stance on the process as a whole," said Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.

In 2002, Arab states offered Israel diplomatic recognition in return for its withdrawal from all occupied territory and an equitable settlement of the Palestinian refugee question, a cornerstone of Arab diplomacy ever since.

"Our meetings have become a waste of money and a waste of time," said Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani.

"We are meeting today and we will issue a statement. The statement will mean nothing," he said. "The whole situation needs a clear and honest review."

The diplomats were referring to the Arab peace initiative in 2002 and subsequent proposals, not the peace treaties Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan.

Saturday's session, called by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Palestinians, came after Morsi met visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Both Turkey and Egypt have publicly shrugged off pressure from Washington to exert pressure on the Islamist Hamas into ending Palestinian militant rocket fire into Israel, blaming the Jewish state instead for the violence.

"It's a tactic of Israel's to point the finger at Hamas and attack Gaza," Erdogan told reporters on Saturday before leaving Ankara for Cairo.

"Israel continues to make an international racket with its three dead," he said of the three Israelis killed by a rocket fired from Gaza. "In fact it is Israel that violated the ceasefire."

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was also in Cairo to meet Egypt's intelligence chief -- traditionally the point man in mediating truces with Israel -- and Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

A senior Hamas official told AFP the movement was reluctant to agree a truce because it does not believe mediators could guarantee the terms of a ceasefire, adding that the "international community" had to put pressure on Israel.

An Arab diplomat said earlier that the ministerial meeting would demand that Israel immediately halt operations in Gaza, and that it would send a delegation led by the Arab League chief to the Palestinian territory.

But, crucially, the United States has backed Israel, with President Barack Obama telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call that Washington supported "Israel's right to defend itself."

Egypt and Turkey have in the past mediated ceasefires and a prisoner exchange between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Both Egypt and Turkey have long-standing relations with the Jewish state that have grown increasingly cold over Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

Morsi, elected in June after a popular uprising overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak last year, recalled his ambassador in Tel Aviv after Wednesday's air strikes and sent his premier to Gaza on Friday in a show of support.

 

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