Egypt calls meeting, just two days before Arab economic summit, superfluous.
By BRENDA GAZZAR AP
Arab League officials announced Wednesday night that they still did not have the necessary legal quorum to convene an emergency Arab League summit in Doha on Friday to discuss Israel's offensive in Gaza.
It was still unclear Thursday morning whether the summit in Qatar would be taking place on Friday.
"Thirteen countries have given their acceptance, therefore the quorum has not been met yet," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters in Kuwait late Wednesday.
Qatar had announced earlier Wednesday that it had the necessary legal quorum to convene the controversial summit.
"There are Arab efforts we hope will lead to the important goal of reaching a solution for the situation in the Gaza Strip," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor al-Thani said, according to the Qatar News Agency.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday called for its own emergency meeting of Gulf Countries in Riyadh to discuss the IDF operation in Gaza on Thursday.
King Abdullah called for the meeting Thursday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh "due to the escalation of the latest events resulting from the Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people and the current circumstances in the Arab world," said a Foreign Ministry statement.
Arab states such as Qatar and Syria have been pushing for an emergency Arab summit to help put an end to Operation Cast Lead, which has resulted in the death of more than 900 Palestinians, most of them believed to be Hamas members.
However, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two Western-backed political heavyweights in the region, along with Tunisia, have rejected holding a summit in Doha, suggesting instead that Arab leaders hold talks in Kuwait on Sunday on the sidelines of a planned Arab economic summit.
"We have a Security Council resolution. We have our initiative, the Egyptian initiative," an Egyptian official told The Jerusalem Post. "We are working very hard to achieve a cease-fire. We prefer, as President Mubarak said, to hold a consultancy meeting in Kuwait next Sunday. We prefer that because we are doing the job already."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, whose nation has dominated the search for a solution to Israel's battle with Hamas, said Wednesday he had received the Islamist group's latest proposal and would convey it to the Israelis.
"There is a Hamas proposition, we will discuss it with the Israelis," he told reporters. "We will keep it under a lid of secrecy until we reach a cease-fire agreement that is followed by several interrelated steps to reach a cease-fire, ensure withdrawal [of the IDF], open the crossings and secure the return of the monitors."
Hamas delegations have been shuttling between Gaza, Cairo and Damascus in an effort to end the Israeli offensive.
Last week, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire leading to a full IDF withdrawal as well as unimpeded humanitarian assistance to Gazans.
The resolution also welcomed the Egyptian truce initiative, which urges Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza to accept an immediate cease-fire for a set period. This would allow humanitarian aid to be delivered through safe corridors and give Cairo a chance to continue its efforts to achieve a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire arrangement.
In addition, some Egyptian analysts argue that the precise purpose of the Doha summit is unclear.
"The issue is, what is the purpose of the meeting?" said Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "They didn't mention what could be achieved at the conference that couldn't be achieved by everybody in Kuwait... It seems like Qatar wants to score a point, which they can score very well in Kuwait. There's no need to score it twice."
The Qatari-based Al-Jazeera satellite network, which is subsidized by the country's emir, has been particularly critical of Egypt since the start of Israel's offensive, he said. They have accused Egypt of collaborating with Israel because of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's visit to Cairo days before Israel launched the offensive and have criticized Egypt for not opening its Rafah border crossing to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip unconditionally.
"The times are very serious. It's not time for propaganda, not time for scoring points," he said.
The Arab League has been deeply divided on how to tackle the conflict in Gaza. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have blamed Hamas for opening the door for Israel's military operation, while Syria and Qatar have been more partial to the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.
The second phase of the Egyptian initiative involves Egypt calling Israel and the Palestinians to attend an urgent meeting to agree on arrangements to secure Gaza's borders, allow the reopening of crossing points and lifting the blockade.
The third phase involves Egypt renewing its invitation to the Palestinian Authority and various Palestinian factions to achieve Palestinian reconciliation.
Meanwhile, President Bashar Assad of Syria said in a BBC interview broadcast on Wednesday Israelis needs to understand that "stop launching rockets means stop assassinating Palestinians by your helicopters and your planes."
He also called on Israel to respect any cease-fire and said it was necessary to lift the blockade on Gaza to ensure that a truce remained intact, according to the BBC.
Assad also warned that the effects of the Gaza war were more dangerous than the war itself, "sowing seeds of extremism and terror around the region."
Syria was working with many countries to secure a truce, primarily the French, he said.
He added that Hamas should be included for future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to succeed.
"We haven't achieved peace yet and the Israelis never delivered since the beginning of the peace process in 1991," Assad added. "So when you don't accept the peace terms, you have to expect resistance."
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