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Arab League Ministers Meet to Discuss Aid to Lebanon

Arab League foreign ministers met here Sunday to discuss funding for the reconstruction of Lebanon. They also discussed a peace initiative that is expected to be presented to the U.N. Security Council next month.

Amid the growing tensions between moderate Arab nations and Syria, Arab foreign ministers came to Cairo Sunday to put together an aid package for reconstructing Lebanon. Also on the agenda is a new peace Palestinian-Israeli peace initiative. The Arab League says it will present the plan to the U.N. Security Council next month.

The ministers did not agree on a reconstruction plan, and instead, said the rebuilding effort will be discussed by its economic council at the next meeting in September.

Eighteen of the 22 members attended Sunday's emergency session. Syria, one of the main backers of Hezbollah, did not attend.

The split between Syria and other Arab states has widened since the Lebanon cease-fire. Earlier in the week, Syrian President Bashar Assad criticized some Arab states for, as he put it, "adopting the enemy's view."

His criticism was aimed Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which had initially blamed Hezbollah for triggering the conflict with its raid into Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has come under fire both at home and within the region for not criticizing Israel until late in the crisis.

Mr. Mubarak Saturday urged Arab nations to put aside their differences and rally around peace efforts.

Despite internal tensions within the Arab League over support for Hezbollah, the chief of the organization, Amr Moussa, says he is optimistic Arab nations are now prepared to put aside their differences and co-operate for the sake of regional stability.

"We all now recognize the hazards of the current situation, and that in itself, is something that is unprecedented," said Amr Moussa. "We are now speaking with one voice, and we are ready to take decisions over critical matters that will determine the future of peace in the region."

Middle East analysts say Arab leaders want to counter Hezbollah's reconstruction projects that are already under way. The group, which is on the U.S. terror organizations list, claims it has a budget with "no limits." Much of the financial aid is believed to be coming from Syria and Iran.

The Kuwaiti foreign minister said his government will donate $800 million in aid to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia said it has donated $500 million. However, that is expected to cover only a fraction of the destruction caused by the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel.