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3 Top Mideast Leaders Denounce Violence - 2002-05-12


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah met late into the night Saturday to discuss a peace deal being offered to Israel.

For the first time since the Palestinian-Israeli conflict began in September 2000, the presidents of Egypt and Syria and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah held a formal meeting to discuss the Mideast crisis.

The meeting was held late Saturday in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheikh.

Following the meeting, the three men issued a joint statement stressing, among other points, their commitment to the Arab peace initiative adopted during the Arab summit last March in Beirut.

The initiative guarantees Israel a normalization of Arab-Israeli relations in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem.

Some political analysts in Egypt say the meeting did not produce anything substantive regarding the Mideast crisis but, they say, it was still a significant event.

The meeting affirms to both the United States and Israel that the Arab world holds a unified position, said Hassan Nafae, head of the political science department at Cairo University. "The meeting in itself is very important," he points out, "because every time Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria come together and coordinate their position, this is generally perceived as a very positive step. It means the Arab system is not about to collapse, the coordination is going ahead, and you do not have to expect a fragmentation of the Arab position."

While the three leaders indicated their support for the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, they also rejected violence of any kind.

Mohammad Kamal, who teaches political science at two Cairo universities, says that statement is very important. "I think it is a response to President Bush's statement that the Arab countries should do more to denounce terrorism," he observed. "This is a statement coming from three important leaders in the region stating that they are in favor of peace, they denounce violence, so they are responding to what George Bush asked them to do."

Mr. Kamal said the meeting was significant because it shows Arab unity regarding Syrian participation in the peace process. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had insisted that a peace agreement must include the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.

Mr. al-Assad returned to Syria late Saturday. Crown Prince Abdullah remained in Egypt for further consultations with President Mubarak.