RIYADH, (Agencies) – Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called on Wednesday for an end to the international blockade on the Palestinian people and told a summit of Arab leaders that sectarian violence was driving Iraq towards civil war.
In his speech to Arab heads of state at a two-day meeting in his capital, the king called on Arabs to overcome their disputes and unify to face dangers threatening them in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. “It has become necessary to end the unjust blockade imposed on the Palestinian people as soon as possible so that the peace process can move in an atmosphere far from oppression and force,” the king said.
Saudi Arabia last month brokered a unity government between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas, hoping it would help end a crippling Western blockade imposed after the Islamist group took office over a year ago.
Israel and its U.S. ally have urged countries to cut political and financial support for the Palestinians because Hamas, which leads the government, refuses to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace deals.
Israel insists it will not release tax money and other aid to Gaza and the West Bank, but some countries have agreed to talk to non-Hamas members of the government and increase aid.
The summit drew a number of world and Muslim leaders who backed the Arab plan for renewed Arab-Israeli peace efforts. “This initiative sends a signal that the Arabs are serious about achieving peace,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an address, according to an Arabic translation.
The two-day summit comes against a tense regional backdrop, with fears high among Arab leaders that a U.S.-led attack on non-Arab Iran, which has refused to comply with U.N. demands to halt atomic work, could further destabilise their region.
Riyadh has called on Sunni Muslim states to overcome divisions, arguing a united front will help persuade Israel to address Palestinian grievances.
U.S.-allied Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, see the hand of Tehran in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
King Abdullah stressed that Sunni-Shi’ite violence in Iraq threatened the stability of the oil-producing Gulf region. “In beloved Iraq, blood flows between brothers in the shadow of illegitimate foreign occupation and hateful sectarianism, threatening a civil war,” he said, in unusually strong criticism of the U.S. presence in Iraq from a strong ally. But his focus was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which Sunni Arab leaders see as a major cause of violent radicalism in their own countries and threat to regional stability.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa pressed Israel to accept unchanged a 2002 Arab initiative being revived at the summit. “The Israelis response was to ask for an amendment. We tell them (Israelis) to accept it first,” Moussa told Arab leaders.
The Arab peace plan offers the Jewish state normal ties with all Arab countries if it fully withdraws from land it occupied in 1967, accepts a Palestinian state and agrees to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.
Israel has objected to key elements in the plan, including the proposed return to 1967 borders, the inclusion of Arab East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees to homes in what is now Israel.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urged leaders not to compromise on the right of refugees to return to homes lost in the turmoil surrounding the creation of the Israeli state. “I expect the Arab summit to reiterate the Arab countries’ commitment not to compromise in any way on the Palestinian refugees right of return under any circumstances,” he said.
A final draft resolution calls for a “just solution” to the problem of Palestinian refugees who fled their homes in 1948 but avoids any mention of the phrase “right of return”. “I don’t believe there will be another opportunity in the future like this,” Abbas said on Tuesday.