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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 22:45 GMT
Emergency Muslim talks on Israel
Children peer at rubble in the Gaza Strip
The Mid-East peace process is in tatters
Frank Gardner

Representatives of the world's estimated 1.2bn Muslims have condemned what they called Israel's repression of Palestinians.

Yasser Arafat
The violence is so bad that Arafat cannot reach his own talks
An emergency meeting in Qatar of foreign ministers and representatives from 57 Islamic nations called on the United States to save what is left of the Middle East peace process.

In the Qatari capital, Doha, Muslim ministers and representatives have gathered once again in an atmosphere of crisis.

The Palestinian Authority has been under attack from Israel, and the delegates have convened to show support for the Palestinians.

Conspicuous absence

Yet the very man who called the meeting is not present.

The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, is effectively confined to Ramallah on the West Bank.

The charred remains of his three burnt helicopters in Gaza are a pitiful reminder of his restricted ability to travel.

In Mr Arafat's absence, the world's biggest Islamic body, the OIC, or Organisation of the Islamic Conference, is trying to support him.

The current head of the OIC, the Qatari ruler, called on the US and the rest of the world to restrain Israel, saying its policies would only destroy peace in the region.

Just more talk?

Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Hamad al-Thano, also proposed setting up a high profile Islamic panel to lobby Western capitals for an independent Palestinian state.

But this is not the first Islamic foreign ministers meeting in Qatar since the Palestinian intifada began 14 months ago and it probably will not be the last.

In his speech, the Qatari emir told delegates that the meeting should not just be a platform for speeches, but that is largely what the previous meetings have been.

So it will take a radical departure for this one to achieve any tangible success.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israeli missiles kill two children
10 Oct 01 | Middle East
Muslim states seek to stem backlash
26 May 01 | Middle East
Muslim states freeze Israel contact
26 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Timeline: Organisation of the Islamic Conference
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