Top Arab leaders shun Damascus summit

Countries aim to show Syria diplomatic cost of its hard line on Lebanon and Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Gadhafi Assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gadhafi Assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Top Arab leaders are boycotting this weekend's Arab summit in Damascus to protest Syria's hard-line stances in nearly every crisis in the Mideast. The gathering has deepened the rift between the region's pro-US camp and Iran's ally Damascus. The no-shows by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are an embarrassment to Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government had hoped the summit on Saturday and Sunday - billed as "the summit of joint Arab action" - would boost its prestige. By staying away, the countries aimed to show Damascus the diplomatic cost of its hard line on Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it is likely instead to strengthen Damascus's alliance with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah. "There are now two axes - Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah are on one side and the rest are on the other," said Wahid Abdel-Meguid of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Arab summits are all about protocol and symbolism, and in that language, the show of disdain from top US-allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan could not be more clear. In an unprecedented move, they are sending minor officials rather than their heads of state - or even their prime ministers or foreign ministers. Egypt's delegation will be headed by its parliamentary affairs minister. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are sending their Arab League ambassadors. Lebanon is boycotting the summit completely, the first time an Arab country has refused to send a delegation since Arab leaders began holding annual summits in 2000. The Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora accuses Syria of blocking attempts to elect a new Lebanese president. Even Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh decided Friday not to come, sending his vice president in his place - perhaps to curry favor with its powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia or because the summit appeared unlikely to endorse a Yemeni proposal for reconciliation between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas. "Syria is losing friends, one after the other," said Mansour Hayal, a Yemeni political analyst.