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Arab leaders meet to heal rifts

Bashar al-Assad and King Abdullah
The summit is meant to end years of feuding between Syria and other states

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has held an Arab mini-summit with Syria, Egypt and Kuwait at an airbase in Riyadh.

It is being seen as a Saudi effort to blunt Iran's regional influence and show a united front ahead of a full Arab summit in Qatar later this month.

Tensions among Arab nations grew during Israel's recent offensive in Gaza, with Syria supporting the Hamas faction and pro-Western states backing rival Fatah.

A possible new right-wing Israeli government could also pose challenges.

Correspondents say the Saudis want to shore up support for their 2002 Arab peace initiative offering full normalisation in return for Israel ending its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

The talks could also help Egyptian-mediated reconciliation between Palestinian groups currently taking place in Cairo.

Reconciliation

There have been no details released about the meeting between King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad and Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

It is being seen by many commentators as another step by Syria to put behind it the diplomatic isolation it suffered after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

Damascus denied involvement in the staunchly pro-Saudi billionaire's murder, now the subject of an international tribunal which has opened in The Hague.

It has been patching up relations with Lebanon, which has opened the door to renewed contacts with the United States and European Union, especially France.

However, rifts with western-backed Arab powers like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been hardest to heal.

On Tuesday, Mr Mubarak said Egypt had responded favourably to calls for reconciliation "despite the fact that some continue to overshadow the climate of reconciliation with positions that reflect schemes forged outside our Arab region", an apparent reference to Syria's strategic alliance with Iran.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused Iran by name of "manipulating Arab states and entities to increase its influence".



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