Arab Leaders meeting in Doha, the Qatari capital, have rejected an international arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president accused of war crimes in Darfur.
In a draft communique issued at the end of the first day of the 21st Arab League summit on Monday, the leaders said they considered the warrant to be in violation of the Vienna agreement of 1961.
It stated that any efforts to address the situation in Darfur would need an agreement between all Sudanese factions, rather than the trial of the president.
"We emphasise our solidarity to the Sudan and our dismissal and rejection of the decision handed down by the International Criminal Court [ICC]," Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, read from the communique.
He said that the decision to arrest al-Bashir was aimed "at undermining the unity and stability of Sudan".
Leaders support Bashir
Ibrahim al-Faqir, the Sudanese ambassador in Doha, told Al Jazeera: "We are very pleased at the Arab support to President al-Bashir ... and we are hopeful that no Arab president will be let down. We are going to fight until the end."
The United Nations says at least 300,000 people have died, many from disease and hunger, since fighting broke out in Darfur between black Africans and Arab militia alleged to have links to the Sudanese government in 2003.
Khartoum has dismissed the UN's account of deaths in Darfur, saying about 10,000 people have died.
Al-Bashir told the delegates that he appreciated their "dismissal of the unjust decision" of the ICC.
The communique also set conditions for the future direction of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"They say that the Arab Peace Initiative is still there but it won't be there for long," Al Jazeera's Amr el-Kahky, reporting from the summit, said.
He said they set two conditions for the future of peace talks; that Israel halts settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and agrees to a time limit to fulfill its obligations towards peace.
"We call for an end to Israeli aggression, ending the siege, reopening the crossings and emphasise that we hold Israel accountable and legally liable for all the crimes perpetrated," Moussa said.
The summit statement said Arab leaders had agreed to establish a legal committee to seek to prosecute Israeli leaders over Israel's 22-day offensive in Gaza which ended in January, leaving more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.
Earlier Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, said that, while the Arab Peace Initiative was still on the table, the new incoming Israeli government under Benyamin Netanyahu was "not a peace partner".
"Israel sees its future in removing the Palestinians to an alternative homeland," he said. "Israeli society is becoming more extremist and aggressive."
The Arab nations also called for the international community to help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the region and work towards a "weapons-free zone".
Moussa said that this would obligate Israel, which is widely believed to have a nuclear weapons programme but has never acknowledged it, to sign the non-proliferation treaty and open its facilities to inspection.
Al Jazeera's el-Kahky said the comments on the nuclear issue also addressed some Arab nations' fears over Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says are entirely peaceful but many Western nations believe are aimed at producing atomic weapons.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said that the atmosphere between the various Arab nations, who have been deeply divided over relations with Iran and the response to Israel's 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip, seemed to have improved during the summit.
|Arab nations have been divided over with Iran and responses to Israel's Gaza assault [AFP]
"What we heard today was more or less a very mild common denominator on some of the issues ... such as supporting Sudan," he said.
"It is a mild statement, but there is a sense that things have moved forward a bit."
Al-Bashir attended the summit in defiance of the warrant issued by ICC, but Qatar is not obliged to arrest al-Bashir as it is not a signatory to the ICC.
He criticised the UN security council, the body that mandated the ICC prosecutor to investigate the situation in Darfur, on Monday saying that its credibility was at stake with "some countries having hegemony".
He called it an "undemocratic institution that ... applies double standards, targeted the weak and gave a blind eye to the criminals".
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, had criticised Sudan's decision to expel 13 international aid agencies from the Darfur region after the ICC arrest warrant was issued.
"I remain extremely concerned by the government's decision to expel key international non-governmental organisations, and suspend the work of three national NGOs [non-governmental organisations] that provide life-sustaining services for more than one million people," he said.
Jamie Balfour-Paul, the Middle East policy adviser for Oxfam, rejected Sudanese allegations that the UK-based charity was spying for the ICC.
"We don't have an agreement with the ICC, we are a humanitarian organisation and we are impartial," he said. "We don't have anything to do with the ICC and we don't have a position on its decision."