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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 13:43 GMT
Saddam urges Palestine summit
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein: The Arab world has neglected the Palestinians
Frank Gardner

Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has appealed to Arab leaders to convene an emergency summit to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In a hard-hitting speech broadcast to the Arab world, the Iraqi president said the Arabs had not done enough to support the Palestinians.

Arab foreign ministers are due to hold an extraordinary meeting in Cairo on Thursday to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories, but the Arab world is divided over how to deal with Israel.

Saddam Hussein said the summit - to be held preferably in the Saudi holy city of Mecca - should be devoted exclusively to what he called aggression against the Palestinians.

Popular rhetoric

The next Arab summit is not due to be held until March, but that, said the Iraqi leader, was like telling someone standing on burning charcoal that fire fighters would be coming in a few months time.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arab leaders are divided over Arafat's speech
Words like these are well received at street level here in the Arab world.

It is part of Saddam Hussein's enduring appeal among ordinary Arabs - that they can count on him for fiery anti-Israeli rhetoric.

But the Iraqi leader also knows there is almost no chance of him being invited to an Arab summit, certainly not on Saudi soil.

The Gulf Arab states have still not forgiven him for invading Kuwait 11 years ago.

Splits over Arafat

And now there are more splits emerging between Arab countries.

They cannot agree on how to react to a speech made by the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday.

In it, he called for a halt to all Palestinian violence against Israel and a return to peace talks.

Moderate Arab states like Egypt and Jordan know that this may be his only chance to end the Israeli occupation.

But to some Arabs, a call to end violence amounts to a betrayal.

On Tuesday, a Saudi newspaper even accused Mr Arafat of "surrendering to Israel".

See also:

18 Dec 01 | Middle East
Shootings follow Mid-East peace plea
16 Dec 01 | Middle East
Arafat pleads for talks with Israel
06 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Testing the mood in Iraq
18 Sep 01 | Media reports
Saddam tells West 'be wise'
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Saddam Hussein profile
06 Aug 01 | Middle East
Saddam Hussein: Intifada's patron
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