'Israelis competing over Arabs' blood'

At Doha summit, Assad accuses Israel of killing Arab peace initiative; Mubarak conspicuously absent.

By BRENDA GAZZAR, AP
March 30, 2009 15:01
3 minute read.
'Israelis competing over Arabs' blood'

Assad Bashir 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday accused Israel of killing an Arab initiative for comprehensive peace and charged that its people were unprepared to make peace. Addressing the 21st Arab summit in Doha, he also said that peace would not be realized with Israel without it "being imposed…by the resistance," a code word for such groups as Hamas and Hizbullah. "Our desire for peace is our incentive for supporting the resistance. Supporting it is a national and moral duty. It is our only option in the absence of other options," said Assad. "The election of a right-wing and extremist government does not change anything in reality; for their right is like their left and center," Assad said, according to a transcript of his speech provided by the official SANA news service. "All of them are competing over the Arabs' land, life and blood. All of them reflect the fact that Israeli society is not prepared for peace." With time, it is expected that Israeli society, "which is becoming more extremist and aggressive," will elect governments that are more opposed to peace, said Assad, who passed on the rotating presidency of the Arab League to Qatar on Monday. "This makes crystal clear that we, the Arab side, since we have launched the Arab peace initiative [in 2002], have no real partner for the peace process, which cannot be achieved with only the Arab side," he continued. The Arab peace initiative offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from lands captured in 1967. In addition, Assad called the Arab peace initiative "ineffective", even if activated, since Israel would not accept an initiative that would "return the rights to their legitimate owners." "In other words, Israel was the party that killed the initiative, not the Doha summit, an idea that some people tried to market." Assad was referring to January's summit in Doha concerning Operation Cast Lead, which was attended by leaders of hard-line states such as Iran and Syria, and boycotted by Western-backed states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Peace for Israelis is only a tactical option, Assad said, which aims to disguise their "long-term goals based on not returning any of the rights they usurped from us." Assad also said that calls to suspend the initiative at the January summit in Doha were "a natural reaction to Israel's indifference to peace." He also suggested that suspending the initiative - or allowing it be on the table conditionally - was preferable. "Those who want to work with us within its framework should convince us that there is another side seriously interested in peace." Assad also called on divided Arab states to put aside their differences in order to pave the way for collective decisions to be made. "In the absence of solidarity, or when solidarity is weakened, any agreement or decision remains a mere illusion, with no possibility of implementation," he said. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was conspicuously absent from the Doha summit, sending instead a low-level delegation to represent him. That move is believed to be a political message to Qatar, which sided with Hamas in Israel's war in Gaza and whose Al-Jazeera satellite station strongly criticized Egypt for not fully opening its Rafah border during the 22-day conflict. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, facing Sudan's defiant President Omar al-Bashir at the summit, sharply denounced the latter's expulsion of aid agencies in response to an international arrest warrant for him on charges of war crimes in Darfur. Ban's address highlighted the vast divide over Bashir - with his Arab partners standing behind him and the backers of the International Criminal Court left widely powerless to bring him to justice if he remains in friendly territory. It was the first time Ban and al-Bashir have come face-to-face since the ICC ordered his arrest on March 4, though it was unclear if they would have any direct contact. Ban told the 22-nation gathering that "we must also work together to transcend the tensions related" to the court, which was established at a UN conference in 1998.


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