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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 04:00 GMT 05:00 UK
Arabs warn against wider attacks
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Doha for conference of Arab League foreign ministers
Yasser Arafat in Doha for the Arab League meeting
Arab leaders have warned the US-led alliance not to extend its attack on Afghanistan to other Muslim or Arab countries.

"Launching strikes against any Arab country under any pretence would lead to severe complications," Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told Egyptian radio as the league's foreign ministers gathered.

We support all measures taken by the United States to resist terrorism

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
The 22 ministers of the Arab League countries met in Doha, the capital of Qatar, to reach a joint position on the US strikes against Afghanistan.

The meeting preceded a larger meeting including the 57 foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Doha on Wednesday.

Mohammad al-Amin Saif, the Foreign Minister of Comoros, which currently chairs the ministerial council, said the purpose of Tuesday's conference was "to formulate a united stand".

The Qatar Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, said the aims of the conference were to articulate the Arab nations' condemnation of terrorism, but warn against an unstudied retaliation.

Split on US strikes

He said they needed to see the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks on the United States in court.

But the BBC's Frank Gardner in Doha says a split has emerged between those who support the US military action, and those who condemn it.

He says that the Syrian delegate left early and Iraq's Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, condemned Washington's actions, while his Gulf Arab counterparts broadly supported them.

As the delegates urged the US not to widen the strikes to other nations, Mr Sabri told the BBC he had "no reason to believe" his country would be the next target, because it had no relations with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, the group blamed for the attacks onj New York and Washington.

Raids 'premature'

Mr Saif pointed out that the Arab countries had condemned the attacks.

"But the raids are premature," he said, expressing the unease felt also by other Arab countries in light of the US attack.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has fought against Islamic fundamentalism in his own country, expressed his support for the alliance on Tuesday, but asked that civilian casualties be avoided.

Protesters throws stones
The governments are battling to rein in hardline elements
"We support all measures taken by the United States to resist terrorism," he said, calling at the same time for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Mr Moussa said the Arab position would be "fierce" if Arab countries were attacked within the context of the ongoing campaign.

"We could never accept strikes against any Arab country, particularly since the accusations made by the United States focused on specific camps, which have been linked to what happened in New York and Washington," he said.

Omani Foreign Minister Yussuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah said Arab countries would continue supporting the United States as long as its operations "come within the anti-terror fight."

But he, too, warned that the "Arab League will not accept any move that might target an Arab country," according to ONA, the official Omani news agency.

Popular dissent

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Arab countries in an interview on Al-Jazeera, which was dubbed into Arabic, that Bin Laden was as much a threat to the Middle East as he was to the West.

Our correspondent says that is a message that moderate Arab governments have mostly failed to get across to their people.

Now they face a growing problem from disillusioned citizens who can see few benefits from being friends with America and the West.

Across the Middle East, governments are battling to rein in hardline elements.

In the Gaza Strip, three Palestinians were killed in violent clashes with their own security forces following a pro-Bin Laden demonstration on Monday.

Egypt and even Oman, where demonstrations are very rare, have had two straight days of student protests against the US attacks on Afghanistan.

The BBC's Louise Bevan
"These are difficult times for the world's largest Islamic organisation"
The BBC's Frank Gardner
"There is a debate as to how to define terrorism"
Pakistan's Interior Minister, Moinudin Haider
"It does look like a war against Muslims"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Americas
UN 'anxiety' over wider strikes
08 Oct 01 | World
Raids split US friends and foes
09 Oct 01 | Middle East
Bin Laden stirs up Arab world
09 Oct 01 | South Asia
Three killed at Pakistan rally
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