An Arab League resolution on Tuesday, approved but subject to amendment, does not mention a UN Security Council resolution demanding Syria should withdraw its troops from Lebanon and end interference in the affairs of its neighbour, diplomats said.

An Arab diplomat said the UN resolution posed an impossible choice for the ministers, who are in Cairo for a regular twice-yearly meeting of the Arab League council of ministers.

They cannot endorse the resolution, because they oppose US and French interference in inter-Arab affairs, but they cannot reject it because their case in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute
rests on other UN Security Council resolutions, he said.

Support for Lebanon

The Arab League resolution says only that the ministers "decided to support Lebanon in its sovereign right to practise its internal political choices ... and to support its free decision to establish and strengthen fraternal relations, coordination and cooperation, especially with Syria".

The formula was approved on Monday at the level of ambassadors, but disagreement emerged when the ministers met in a closed session on Tuesday morning, league sources said.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan al-Muashir said Syria should comply with the UN resolution and the Arab League could not challenge decisions taken by the Security Council, the sources said. Gulf states supported the Jordanian position.

Submission

But Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara said this position meant submission to American pressure.  

The League said Beirut had the
right to 'internal political choices'

The US and France were the driving forces behind the resolution. 

The sources quoted al-Shara as saying the resolution was a "flagrant threat to Syria and official intervention in the internal affairs of Lebanon and relations between states".

"To stay silent about it would be to give America the right to intervene in every matter that concerns the Arabs," one source quoted him as saying. 

The aim of the resolution was to serve Israeli interests and to put pressure on Syria to cooperate with the occupation of Iraq, "and that will never happen", al-Shara reportedly added.

He said the Arabs are the only regional grouping that complies with UN resolutions while Israel ignores resolutions dating back to the 1960s.

Played down

An Arab League official played down the disagreement and said no one had proposed amending the agreed text.

In Amman on Monday, Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khadir said Jordan stood by fellow Arabs, but could not stand against "international legitimacy". She was quoted by the official Egyptian news agency MENA.

On Monday, the Saudi Press Agency quoted Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaikh Muhammad al-Salim al-Sabah as saying the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) "supports the latest Security Council resolution that demands withdrawal of all forces from Lebanon". 

The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.