Arab summit under way with Lebanon, nine others absent

A two-day Syrian-hosted Arab summit started Saturday in Damascus amid a Lebanese boycott and the absence of nine Arab leaders. ( dpa )

Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the kings of Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia decided not to participate in the summit.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem had earlier told a news conference that the Arab leaders had not come under pressure from the United States.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the participants at the annual conference, including 10 Arab leaders and the representatives of 10 Arab countries.

Lebanon has completely boycotted the summit.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the summit, but was scheduled to leave on Saturday evening to hold talks in Amman with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In a speech opening the summit, Al-Assad said security in the Middle East can be only achieved through peaceful means, not through wars and aggression.

He also criticized Israel's understanding of security in the region.

"The Israeli understanding of security can never be achieved,as the Israeli occupation of the Arab territories contradicts with peace and security," al-Assad said.

He added: "If security is not mutual, it will be just illusive and not present."

The Syrian president used the word "holocaust" to describe the Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

"Here we are convening, while the blood of the Palestinian martyrs who have been killed in the Israeli massacres and its holocaust hasn't dried," he said. "The state-terror of Israel against our Arab nations represents the most horrible type of terror in the modern time."

Al-Assad stressed that all Arab countries have a collective intention to achieve peace in the region, if only Israel expresses readiness for it.

"If wars and occupations were the most serious issues that we had faced within the last decades, the battle for peace wasn't less important. We realize how important peace is for a long time," the Syrian leader said.

Concerning Beirut's political crisis, he said the Lebanese people were the key players to end the stand-off and elect a new president.

"We are ready to cooperate with any Arab or non-Arab efforts to end the crisis there," Assad pledged.

Abbas, meanwhile, called on the gathering to help the Palestinians get Arab and international protection in the Palestinian territories.

"Amid the ongoing Israeli escalation in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, we are seeking Arab and international protection of our people," Abbas said.

His speech focused on the Israeli practices in the Palestinian territories, mainly the expansion of Jewish settlements, building the wall, arrests in the West Bank and the military offensives on the Gaza Strip.

" Israel is practicing collective punishments against the Palestinian people. It hasn't stopped the ongoing arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank, keeping in jail more than 11,000 people," said Abbas.

Abbas said he had offered a full and mutual truce with Israel and a plan to rule Gaza Strip crossings, including the crossing on the border between Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Abbas also said that the Palestinian Authority accepted the Yemeni initiative of reconciliation, where he called on Hamas "to end its control of Gaza and accept the commitments of Palestine Liberation Organization to the peace process."

The seven-point Yemeni-brokered initiative of reconciliation between rival Fatah and Hamas called for holding early legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian territories.

"We accepted the Yemeni initiative and we believe that it should be implemented without any amendment or changes," said Abbas about the Yemeni plan which calls for a restoration of the Gaza situation to that before June 2007 when Hamas took sole control of the strip after bloody fighting with Fatah.

However, Hamas said it only accepted the Yemeni initiative as being the basis to resume a dialogue on all the outstanding issues.

The summit plans to issue its final statement on Sunday.

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