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Muslim Nations to Discuss Saudi Peace Plan in Sudan - 2002-04-04


Muslim nations are to take up the Saudi Middle East peace initiative at their upcoming foreign ministers meeting in Sudan. The aim is to throw the weight of the Muslim world behind the proposal.

The chairman of the next Muslim foreign ministers meeting, Mustafa Osman Ismail of Sudan, said the top priority for the June meeting in the Sudanese capital is to broaden support for the Saudi proposal, called the Arab initiative. "We will try that this Arab initiative be adopted by the conference, to take its Islamic extension," Mr. Osman said.

Mr. Osman, speaking Thursday to reporters in Kuala Lumpur, notes that some of the biggest obstacles to the Middle East peace process such as Jerusalem and sovereignty over its Al-Aqsa Mosque - are not just Arab issues, but Muslim ones as well. As a result, he believes governments of the world's one billion Muslims will support it.

The initiative, proposed earlier this year by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, was adopted last month by the Arab League summit in Beirut. The initiative says Arab states would establish full relations with Israel if it withdraws from Palestinian territories to the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel has called the initiative interesting. But the proposal has been sidelined by the rising violence in the region. The Sudanese foreign minister said another priority is to forge a Muslim definition for terrorism. Delegates to this week's Islamic Conference meeting in Malaysia condemned terrorism but deferred its definition to the United Nations.

Mr. Osman said delegates agreed that terrorism should be defined as any attack by an individual or state against civilians, but then ran into differences. "The difference is [over] the definition of the civilians. For example, somebody who is wearing civilian clothes but at the same time has got pistols or a grenade, can you consider him as a civilian?" Mr. Osman said.

The Sudanese foreign minister explained that some delegates did not want Israeli settlers living in Palestinian territories to be labeled civilians. They believe suicide bombings against settlers are not terrorist attacks because these are part of a resistance to what is viewed as foreign occupation.

The Islamic conference is calling for an international conference on terrorism under United Nations auspices. But such a conference is not likely to happen unless a consensus can be reached on a definition of the term. And opinions on this issue still differ widely because different governments apply the terrorist label to different adversaries.

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