Arab League summit on Gaza delayed

Arab nations' inability to agree a common stance on the Gaza offensive has put a Qatar-hosted summit in Doha on Friday in jeopardy. Only 13 of the 22 member states agreed to attend and, on Friday, organisers announced the summit was delayed.


AFP - A summit proposed by Qatar on the Gaza crisis will open on Friday, a senior official told AFP as Arab leaders began gathering in Doha to attend the meeting.

"The emergency summit will begin at 10:00 am (0700 GMT)," the official said.

"The summit will convene with whoever is present," the official added, dismissing mounting doubt the meeting would take place if a quorum was not reached.

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir was among the first leaders to arrive in the Qatari capital, followed by his Algerian, Lebanese and Syrian counterparts, an AFP correspondent said.

Mauritanian state press agency AMI reported that General Ould Abdel Aziz, leader of the junta that seized power last August, had set off from Nouakchott for Qatar.

But Western-backed Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas has said he will stay away, the Palestinian envoy in Doha, Munir Ghonam, told AFP.

Arab League chief Amr Mussa said in Kuwait late on Wednesday that a quorum of 15 countries to hold a summit in Doha had not been achieved, as only 13 of the 22 member states had agreed to attend.

The apparent split between Arab leaders was highlighted by Saudi Arabia's decision to stage a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh on Thursday.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI hit out angrily on Thursday at the Arab world's failure to respond in a united way over Gaza and ruled out his attendance either in Doha or at an Arab economic summit in Kuwait Monday.

The king issued a statement condemning "a pathetic Arab situation that had achieved a state of disrepair without precedent in the history of common Arab action."

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani repeated his invitation for Arab countries to attend the Doha summit to discuss the Gaza Strip.

He called for Arab countries to create a fund for Gaza's reconstruction and pledged his country would contribute 250 million dollars to the fund.

In a televised address, he urged Arab nations to reconsider their diplomatic ties with Israel in response to the attacks on Gaza, where more than 1,100 people have been killed and a further 5,000 people have been wounded since Israel began its offensive on December 27.

Saudi Arabia's decision to assemble Gulf leaders in Riyadh accentuates the Arab rift, which has seen Qatar and Syria back the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza, while heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia support Abbas.

Riyadh has said all GCC members -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- will attend the Saudi summit.

Qatar's ambassador to Saudi Arabia confirmed to AFP on Thursday that Qatar's head of state will take part.

Sheikh Hamad has pledged to make a number of propositions at the Doha summit to "stop the bloodshed" of Palestinians in Gaza.

His ideas include "freezing the Arab peace initiative and the suspension of all forms of normalisation with Israel, including the reconsideration of diplomatic ties."

Qatar is the only Arab Gulf country to maintain commercial ties with Israel, while Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania are the only Arab countries that have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Sheikh Hamad on Sunday ruled out the closure of the Israeli trade office in Doha over the Gaza conflict, saying such a move needed joint Arab backing.

A Saudi-proposed Arab peace initiative, adopted at Arab summits in 2002 and again in 2007, offers Israel normalisation of ties in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from all Arab territories it has occupied since 1967.

Israel has never agreed to this initiative, though it says the plan has positive elements.

Sheikh Hamad also suggested the creation of a "maritime bridge" to transfer humanitarian aid to the battered territory.

"We have not called a summit to prepare Arab armies for a war against Israel," Sheikh Hamad said in his address. "We are not dreamers," he added.

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