Arab leaders seek common ground

Arab League nations back Sudanese president as he defies arrest warrant to attend.

    Al-Bashir, left, is attending the summit in defiance
    of an international arrest warrant [AFP]

    'Rejection and cancellation'

    Al-Bashir, who is accused of committing war crimes in Sudan's western region of Darfur and attended the summit in defiance of the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), thanked Arab nations for their support. 

    "We appreciate your support and hope it will lead to strong and clear resolutions ... that reject this resolution and call for its cancellation," he said.

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    Qatar is not obliged to arrest al-Bashir as it is not a signatory to the ICC.

    Al-Bashir also criticised the UN security council, the body that mandated the ICC prosecutor to investigate the situation in Darfur, 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".

    Earlier, 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.

    Despite the apparent unity over the Sudan issue, Arab nations have deeply divided over relations with Iran and the response to Israel's 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip, which left at least 1,300 Palestinians dead. 

    Syria and Qatar both maintain close ties with Iran, but other Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the main regional power brokers, have expressed concerns over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

    Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, called for the formation of a regional defence pact to protect the region from moving towards a nuclear arms race. 

    'Extremist' Israel

    Al-Assad said that, while the Arab Peace Initiative put forward to Israel in 2002 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."

    Delegates gathered in Doha for the Arab League's 21st summit

    Ban also addressed the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressing concern about the situation in Gaza following Israel's assault and urging Israel to freeze its building of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

    "The way forward is a durable ceasefire, open crossings and Palestinian reconciliation under president [Mahmoud] Abbas. Efforts to achieve this need your united support," he said.

    Referring to the global financial crisis, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar who is hosting the conference, said: "We need to review the systems and policies which we have followed for a long time in order to face the [economic] crisis."

    He also said that Arab nations needed a new mechanism to deal with disputes.

    "We all agree that our goal is one, and that is serving our people and improving their lives," the emir said

    While 17 heads of state are attending the two-day gathering, more than initially expected, there have been some notable abstentions.

    Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has not shown up for the conference, sending instead a low-level delegation, widely seen as a snub to Qatar.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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