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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Arab leaders urge Arafat meeting
Israeli soldiers throw stun grenades at Arab-Israelis
Israeli military action continues despite Arab protests
Arab League foreign ministers at an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss the Middle East crisis want the United States to support Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader and not sideline him as urged by Israel.

All the ministers said they will tell Powell that President Arafat is the sole representative of the Palestinian people

Palestinian minister Nabil Shaath
Palestinian international co-operation minister Nabil Shaath said the ministers would tell US Secretary of State Colin Powell, due to arrive on Monday on a peace mission to the region, to meet Mr Arafat during that trip.

The meeting of the 22-member league has been called to discuss the recent Israeli incursions in the West Bank, which have overshadowed the Saudi-sponsored peace plan endorsed by Arab leaders last month.

The league's meeting comes against a background of demonstrations across the Arab world calling for tough action against Israel.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says that, while Arab leaders are under domestic pressure to take a tough stance, this meeting is not expected to produce much beyond expressions of support for the Palestinians.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister at the Arab League summit last week
Lebanon and Syria want Egypt and Jordan to break ties with Israel

There have also been indications that the Arab ministers will back the new initiative by US President George Bush.

Speaking before the meeting, the Algerian Foreign Minister, Abdelaziz Belkhadem said he had detected a change in the American position on the crisis, with President Bush emphasising the right of the Palestinians to establish their own state.

Mr Shaath appeared to drop an earlier demand that Arab foreign ministers and leaders refuse to meet with Mr Powell if the US chief diplomat spurns Mr Arafat.

Palestinian officials say they want to see a unified Arab position supporting their besieged leader, Yasser Arafat, and calling for the application of Security Council resolutions.

Growing discord

Syria and Lebanon have not sent their foreign ministers to the meeting, as they are objecting to Egypt and Jordan's refusal to break ties with Israel.

Iraq's foreign minister is also not attending the meeting following a rejection by the Arab League of the country's proposal to cut down on oil supplies in order to force the West to reign in Israel.

The snub by the three countries indicates growing discord in the Arab world regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the Beirut summit in late March, Arab leaders offered Israel normal relations if Israel pulled out of all Arab land it occupied in 1967.

In return it demanded that Israel must also recognise a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees.

It also adopted a resolution calling on Arab countries to refrain from setting up relations with Israel as long as incursions continued.

Egypt and Jordan have not broken off diplomatic relations, arguing that the resolution adopted by the league does not apply to them.

See also:

01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arabs pressed to act over Israel
31 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel warns Syria over Lebanon
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Palestinian support demos
27 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arab League summit in quotes
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Quick guide: Arab League
04 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Timeline: Arab League
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