KUWAIT (Reuters) – Arab leaders agreed at a summit on Tuesday to help rebuild the battered Gaza Strip, but failed to bridge differences over the three-week Israeli offensive that killed more than 1,300 people.
The conflict in Gaza underscored the Arab divide between those allied to Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one side, and those allied to Syria and Qatar on the other.
Arab leaders condemned Israel’s attack and demanded its immediate withdrawal from Gaza in the summit declaration read by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. It called on Israel to punish those who had committed war crimes during the offensive.
“The summit is holding Israel legally responsible for war crimes it committed and for taking the necessary action to pursue those who committed the crimes,” Moussa said.
A debate over the strength of the wording on Gaza delayed the concluding session. Moussa, who had pushed for stronger condemnation of Israel, later said the declaration bore the imprint of the diplomatic tensions among Arab leaders.
“Arab affairs are still tense,” Moussa said. “Things are still not good in my opinion and that’s why the declaration was issued like that … Other things needed to be included and were not.”
Last week, clusters of leaders gathered at different meetings to draw up resolutions to put to the Arab summit in Kuwait.
A meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Kuwait on Friday prepared resolutions including a pledge of support for the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
But another meeting in Doha took a much stronger line, calling on Arab countries to review their ties with Israel and to suspend a 2002 Arab peace initiative. Qatar, which froze its ties with Israel over the Gaza offensive, had pushed to include those resolutions in the Kuwait declaration, Moussa said.
The 2002 peace initiative offered Israel normal relations in return for full withdrawal from all Arab land occupied in the 1967 Middle East War and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Moussa said alternatives to the peace initiative would have to be found if Israel continued with its aggression. That comment echoed a speech by Saudi King Abdullah on Monday in which he said the initiative was still on the table, but that Israel should not expect it to stay there forever.
On Monday, Abbas, who controls the West Bank but lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007, called for reconciliation and the formation of a national unity government to pave the way for presidential and parliamentary election.
Abbas is backed by the West but seen as weak by leaders of some Arab states such as Syria.
AID AND ENERGY
Leaders were also divided on whether the aid should go Hamas or to Abbas, Arab diplomats said.
The final declaration omitted detail on the size of a fund to rebuild Gaza. Foreign ministers meeting on Friday had adopted a resolution to establish a fund of up to $2 billion fund that leaders were expected to back. Saudi Arabia committed $1 billion toward reconstruction on Monday.
The declaration focused on increased economic cooperation and inter-regional investment, with the emphasis on energy.
It called on Arab states to work together to tackle the impact of the global financial crisis on the region and to take part in global efforts to restore financial stability.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a speech to the summit on Monday that the Arab world must be a part of the global response to the crisis. Western governments have asked Arab oil exporters to contribute to efforts to ease the crisis.
Arab leaders called for cooperation in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and the expansion of regional power grids and natural gas networks.