Arab leaders hold surprise summit

Alexandria - Leaders of Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia gathered in the Egyptian port yesterday for a surprise Arab mini-summit called by the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

The summit, only acknowledged by Egypt after the arrival of President Hafez al-Assad, of Syria, was aimed at "resolving Arab differences and co-ordinating efforts towards solidarity", according to the Egyptian Information Minister, Safwat Sherif.

"At a summit like this I think all the issues will be discussed - the Middle East peace process, Arab relations and international issues," he said shortly before foreign ministers of the three countries were due to start preparatory talks.

President Assad and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia held separate meetings with President Mubarak when they arrived.

Egyptian officials had suggested that the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh, of Yemen, might also come to Egypt, but Mr Sherif said no more heads of state would be coming. He gave little indication of the specific subjects the summit would address.

Saudi, Egyptian and Syrian troops helped drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991. In the same year the three countries signed the Damascus Declaration, a defence and economic pact with Kuwait and four other Gulf Arab states. Egypt and Syria feel the Gulf states have not lived up to the expectations created by the agreement.

Egypt has sought acknowledgement that it has a role to play in the Gulf, but when Iraqi troops gathered near the Kuwaiti border in October the Gulf Arab states turned to the United States for support. Syria has also sought more backing from the six Gulf states to secure full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Diplomats say Syria was upset by the decision of the six Gulf Arab states to drop a 46-year-old boycott of companies trading with the Jewish state.

Mr Mubarak told Kuwait's al-Watan newspaper that he believed President Assad and the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, were serious about the peace process.

The Egyptian leader added: "I think an agreement will be reached during 1995."