Algerian President Abd al-Aziz Butaflika and chairman of the current Arab summit session began the meetings by describing peace with Israel, based on an initiative expected to be endorsed in Algiers, as of "strategic" benefit for the Arab world.

"It is necessary to reaffirm strongly that peace [with Israel] is the strategic choice of all the Arab world," Butaflika told the opening session on Tuesday.

An Arab peace initiative "submitted by Saudi Crown Prince Abd Allah ... and officially adopted at the Beirut summit [in 2002] is based on the principle of a land-for-peace exchange," the Algerian president added.

Poor turnout

 

Only 14 Arab heads of state or rulers out of the 22-member Arab League are expected to attend Tuesday's summit which coincides with the 60th anniversary of the pan-Arab organisation.

 

Aljazeera's correspondent in Algeria, Arar al-Shara, reported that the summit would be one of relief after conflicts which had peppered preparations for the meeting.

 

The main setback to the summit was the absence of several Arab world leaders, including Jordan's King Abd Allah II, Yemeni President Ali Abd Allah Salih and his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahud.

 

But Algerian Foreign Minister Abd al-Aziz Bilkhadim told Aljazeera that representation of each country by a delegation was enough and a presidential absence would not block the summit's success.

 

He said the meeting was not about heads of states, but about countries.

 

Several foreign dignitaries are also expected to be present at the opening ceremony, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

 

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will address the summit to garner Arab support for his plan to create an "alliance of civilisations" to defeat terrorism and bring Western and Arab nations closer together.

 

Israeli pullout

 

Jordan succeeded in putting back on the table an Arab plan to normalise ties with Israel in return for an Israeli pullout of all Arab land, which Saudi Arabia had initially proposed at the 2002 Beirut summit.

 

Members will discuss the Arab-
Israeli conflict  at the summit

 

"Jordan presented a document aiming at reactivating, promoting and marketing the Arab initiative for peace, by submitting a precise and concise form," Arab League spokesman Husam Zaki said.

 

"This document was examined by the delegates who introduced a few additions in a way to please everybody and this is what was adopted," he said, referring to objections that had been made in the run-up to the summit.

 

The three-point draft offers Israel the chance to normalise ties with the Arab countries in exchange for a total pullout from land it conquered in 1967 and later annexed.

 

It also insists that an independent Palestinian state and a solution to guarantee the rights of Palestinian refugees are essential to peace with Israel.

 

"Based on the Arab peace initiative, Arab countries will therefore consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over and will set up normal ties with Israel within the framework of a comprehensive peace," the draft said.

 

Agenda

 

The Arab offer comes a month after a landmark summit between Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during which they agreed to a truce.

 

"Based on the Arab peace initiative, Arab countries will therefore consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over and will set up normal ties with Israel within the framework of a comprehensive peace"

Jordanian three-point draft on Arab-Israeli conflict

The political transition in Iraq following January's historic legislative elections and the continued presence of foreign troops in the embattled country will also be addressed at the summit.

 

The Syrian troop redeployment in Lebanon is not on the official agenda, but Arab leaders are expected to voice solidarity with Damascus which is facing heavy international pressure to end its domination over Lebanon.

 

The civil war in Sudan's western Darfur region and the conflict in Somalia are also on the agenda.

 

Arab leaders are also expected to agree on setting up a pan-Arab parliament, and discuss how best they should push ahead with a pledge they took last year to speed up democratic reforms.

 

But al-Shara added that the Arab leaders believed reforms in the Arab world, demanded by the West, were not a priority.

 

He said their priorities lay in reforms in the Arab League and the amendment of elections to establish a joint Arab parliament.