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Bitter Divisions Among Arab Leaders Spawn Rival Diplomatic Talks


Two rival Arab gatherings have been taking place in Kuwait and Qatar, reflecting the deep divide among Arab leaders over how to react to the three-week-old conflict in Gaza. The bitter division is taking Arab leaders into uncharted territory.

The tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar went ahead with a summit of Arab leaders, Friday, without the required 15 member quorum needed to hold an official summit.

A rival meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers in Kuwait to discuss diplomatic efforts to end the 21-day-old conflict in Gaza appeared only to deepen the divide between feuding Arab leaders. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who attended the Kuwait gathering, said "the Arab situation is in great chaos," calling the rival summits "extremely regrettable and very harmful."

An Egyptian peace plan, crafted to put an end to the Gaza conflict, appears to be at the center of the diplomatic row between pro-Western Arab states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and more hardline states, including Syria, Sudan and Iran.

The Qatar summit appeared to rally support for the hardline positions of the militant Hamas group, whose leader Khaled Meshaal was invited to participate. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stayed away from the conference.

Meshaal, who sat at the table as a head of state, addressed the gathering with his characteristic biting tone, telling Arab heads of state that Hamas has not been defeated and that it will not accept Israel's conditions for a Gaza cease-fire:

He says that despite all the destruction in Gaza, Hamas won't accept the Israeli conditions for a cease-fire. "That," he says, "is our decision, taken freely." The resistance in Gaza, he insists, has been beaten up badly, but not defeated. Israel, he argues, has failed to accomplish anything, despite its gargantuan force.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad, whose country supports Hamas, delivered a stinging rebuke to Israel, saying that it has "learned nothing from history ... going from one massacre of Arabs to the next."

Assad also urged Arab leaders to stop dealing with Israel, entirely, and to "close Israeli embassies," in their countries. But, above all, he insisted that the Arab peace plan, proposed at a 2002 Beirut summit, was dead, once and for all.

He says that Syria has been calling for the withdrawal of the Arab peace initiative, but now Israel, by its actions, has killed it entirely. The plan, he repeats, must now be removed from the category of a live proposal, and considered to be dead.

Away from the bluster of the Qatar summit, Arab Foreign Ministers discussed what to do in the wake of Israel's rejection of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860, calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, told ministers gathered in Kuwait that one option was to "go back to the Security Council to vote on another resolution to enforce a cease-fire."

The meeting ended with the adoption of a proposal calling for a "halt to the Israeli aggression in Gaza," and the "lifting of the Israeli blockade, including the opening of all border crossings." Participants also expressed support for Egypt's Gaza peace plan.

Israeli envoy Amos Gilad, meanwhile, met with Egyptian mediators, who have been trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, but left without making any declarations.

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