Egypt’s Mubarak Blames Israel
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ At an Arab summit held amid outrage at violence that has killed scores of Palestinians, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak blamed Israel on Saturday for bringing the peace process to a standstill, but said Arabs would not abandon the path of negotiations.
Mubarak opened the summit a day after Israel declared it was putting the peace process on hold and U.S. efforts to bring calm were shattered by gunbattles in the West Bank.
With Israel watching carefully, leaders who gathered here for the first time in four years are trying to strike a balance between keeping the peace process alive and assuaging an angry Arab public demanding strong measures against the Jewish state.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said his people were facing ``the worst kinds of mass killings, shelling in addition to severe siege.″ Still, he said, ``Our choice is the choice of permanent, just and comprehensive peace.″
``Our aim is to liberate our land, set up our independent state ... with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of refugees,″ Arafat said, speaking after Mubarak and after a moment of silence in commemoration of Palestinian dead.
A grave-looking Mubarak called on Israel to prove that it, too, wanted peace amid the clashes that have killed more than 100 people, mostly Palestinians.
Mubarak warned that Israel was showing ``a trend ... toward provocation″ by closing off the Palestinian territories, ``terrorizing innocent civilians and killing defenseless children and letting loose extremists settlers armed with guns.″
``We insist on guarantees that this not be repeated under any circumstances,″ he said.
It was one of the most important speeches of Mubarak’s career, following the collapse of a cease-fire he and President Clinton helped broker this week at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheik resort.
On Friday, Palestinian militiamen fired on Israeli soldiers, drawing massive return fire. Nine Palestinians were killed and 103 wounded in one of the worst days of violence in the West Bank since fighting erupted there three weeks ago.
Clashes continued Saturday at flashpoints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving two Palestinians dead and more than 50 injured.
``These acts prove that Israel doesn’t want peace,″ Palestinian Foreign Minister Farouk Kaddoumi had said as he headed into the Arab summit, which drew 15 heads of state from among the Arab League’s 22 members.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. It has since then tried to mediate in efforts for peace deals between the Jewish state and Syria and the Palestinians.
But in the wake of the violence, Arab leaders are under great pressure to justify even the lowest level of contacts with Israel.
Drafts of the summit’s final declaration, reports say, call for Arab countries with trade offices in Tel Aviv to recall their representatives and for Egypt and Jordan, the only countries with diplomatic relations, to halt already faltering steps to encourage business and cultural exchanges.
``All kinds of cooperation with Israel should be stopped and the boycott should be reactivated,″ Syrian President Bashar Assad said, repeating the hard-line stance of his late father, whom he succeeded earlier this year.
On the streets, many Arabs are calling for much more.
``The only way to liberate Jerusalem is through holy war,″ crowds chanted in San’a, Yemen during an anti-summit, anti-Israel and anti-American protest that drew thousands on Saturday.
At the funeral Saturday of four of the Palestinians killed the previous day, many of the thousands of mourners in the West Bank town of Nablus carried flags of Arab countries, in an appeal for support from the summit. ``Oh Arabs, pay attention, the Palestinians are getting killed,″ the crowd chanted.
``If (the summit) will not call for holy war against the Jews, it has failed,″ said Jawad Mubarak, an Amman, Jordan, bookstore clerk.
In demonstrations across the region, Arab initially directed their anger at Israel, their emotions fueled by satellite television images of young Palestinian protesters gunned down by the Israeli army. Recently, the anger has also been directed at Arab governments seen as too soft on Israel.
Mubarak acknowledged that ``we are all angry″ but warned against ``surrendering to our emotions.″
``We must as people who have rights continue on the long road toward our legitimate rights and let no passing provocation sway us from it, because right in the end is what triumphs,″ he said.
Other Arab leaders called for strong action against Israel. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in a speech read by his deputy Izzat Ibrahim, called Saturday for liberating Palestinians from Israel ``through holy war.″
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi even publicly ridiculed what he predicted would be an ineffectual outcome from a divided summit.
It takes a crisis to bring Arab leaders together, and crises inevitably reveal the hollowness of Arab pledges to take unified stances.
The last Arab League summit in 1996 struggled to forge a united stand on peace with Israel. The previous summit, in 1990, saw the Arabs split over one league member’s invasion of another _ Iraq’s move into Kuwait.
Since then, Kuwait and other Gulf states have refused to sit down with Iraq, derailing attempts to hold more regular summits.
Mubarak, who has repeatedly called for healing rifts within the Arab League, met early Saturday with the head of the Iraqi delegation. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sent a deputy to Cairo. Kuwait’s deputy prime minister, Sheik Sabah al Ahmed al Sabah, attended.