Arab states refuse to sever their ties with Barak

As the bloodshed continues on the West Bank, Gaddafi walks out of Muslim leaders' summit in protest over lack of direct action
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The Independent Online

In the narrow alleys of Old Cairo yesterday, Egyptians shook their heads in disbelief as an emergency Arab summit on the crisis in the Middle East wound up with a torrent of condemnation of Israel but no concrete action. "What was the point?" said one man. "I don't know why they bothered."

In the narrow alleys of Old Cairo yesterday, Egyptians shook their heads in disbelief as an emergency Arab summit on the crisis in the Middle East wound up with a torrent of condemnation of Israel but no concrete action. "What was the point?" said one man. "I don't know why they bothered."

Kings, emirs and presidents had gathered for the first time in four years at what the secretary general of the Arab League, Ismat Abdel Meguid, called a "critical moment" in Arab history.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya walked out of the crisis summit convinced that it would only denounce, condemn, provide an occasion for Arab leaders to "eat and drink", and fail to meet "the expectations of the masses". In that, he was right.

In the name of the assembled Arab leaders, Mr Meguid denounced Israeli "atrocities" and commended the "Al Aqsa uprising".

The collective wringing of hands was accompanied by offers of cash for the Palestinians - the announcement of a $200m (£143m) fund to help the families of the dead, with another $800m aimed at "protecting the Arab and Islamic nature of Jerusalem". Arabs were also called on to donate a day's salary to the Palestinian cause.

But although even Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States, had called on Saturday for a severing of Arab ties with Israel, the summit's final communiqué committed Arab leaders only "to stop opening relations with Israel".

Just before the summit ended, Tunisia announced that it was breaking its low-level ties with Israel. But in the end, Arab leaders trying to come up with a "united stand" decided to allow individual countries to make their own decisions.

"Breaking off ties was a red light for Egypt and Jordan," one Arab delegate said. "They were worried it would look like adeclaration of war, and that the Americans and Europe would not accept it."

The main demands of the summit were addressed to the international community, over which Arab leaders know they have little control. They called for the United Nations to set up an international court to try Israelis responsible for the bloodshed for war crimes, for an international inquiry and for UN protection for the Palestinians.

The Israeli leader, Ehud Barak, commended the host, President Hosni Mubarak, who is thought to have steered the way to the final communiqué, for his "balanced approach". The Egyptian Foreign Minister insisted that a strong message had been sent: "We mean business." But a spokesman for Hamas, Ibrahim Ghosheh, said: "The regimes have failed to rise to the occasion and come closer to their peoples."

And on the streets of Cairo, a final communiqué lauded by one Israel official as a "victory of wisdom" was seen as a sign of Arab weakness and of its subservience to the US.

"The very least we wanted was a cut in ties," said Abdul Rabbu Abdul Sami, 36, a perfume seller. "We should stop selling oil to the Americans and anyone else who helps Israel." At a butcher's shop beside Al-Azhar mosque, the owner said: "We should hit them. We want Hizbollah everywhere. Israel doesn't want peace."

The Arab leaders still do. "Everyone is disappointed with the conditions of the peace process and with the way Israel and the American are treating it," a delegate said. "But everyone agreed they don't want war." He added that it was "still too early to respond to the demands of the street".

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