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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Arab leaders denounce violence
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (c) meets with his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, right, and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah (l)
It is not clear whether talks will continue on Sunday
The leaders of Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia have "rejected all forms of violence" and expressed "sincere" Arab determination to forge peace with Israel.

The statement by President Hosni Mubarak, President Bashar al-Assad and Crown Prince Abdullah came after a summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to review the current situation in the Middle East, including the prospect of an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

It is not immediately clear whether the talks would continued on Sunday, although Palestinian international co-operation minister Nabil Shaath and Palestinian preventive security chief Mohammad Dahlan are to hold separate talks with Saudi and Egyptian officials.

The leaders did not refer to terrorism or to Palestinian suicide bombings in their communique, but they did specifically denounce alleged Israeli "war crimes" against the Palestinians and made specific reference to Israeli actions in the West Bank town of Jenin.

Breathing space

Before the meeting began, President Mubarak revealed he had spoken directly by telephone to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, on Thursday, urging him not to carry out any large-scale military attack on the Gaza Strip in response to the latest suicide bombing south of Tel Aviv.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal
Saud al-Faisal: Palestinians must be convinced to end attacks
The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that the Arabs and Americans had exchanged commitments towards one another and he welcomed what he called a new willingness by President Bush to engage pro-actively in the Middle East.

He acknowledged Arab pledges to engage seriously in peace moves to convince the Palestinians they must stop suicide bombing and to ensure that Arab oil producers did not use petroleum supplies as a political weapon to pressurise the West over the Middle East.

BBC correspondent David Bamford said that the apparent decision by the Israelis to hold off on any new large scale military action into the Gaza Strip has also allowed a small breathing space for the Arab leaders to look at the big picture in the Middle East without being diverted into further vitriolic condemnation of Israel.

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher rejected Israeli calls for a regional conference following preliminary talks with Egypt and Syria.

Mr Maher said Egypt opposed a conference where Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "decides who attends, who represents who, and decides what to be discussed".

He added it was "out of the question" to accept Mr Sharon's call for a "very long-term interim agreement" for the Palestinians as opposed to a permanent solution.

See also:

21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Quick guide: Arab League
11 May 02 | Middle East
Arab leaders pledge oil stability
09 May 02 | Middle East
Peace conference moves arouse Arab fears
04 May 02 | Middle East
Arabs press UN over Jenin 'massacre'
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat aide chides Arab leaders
03 May 02 | Middle East
Mid-East leaders welcome peace move
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