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Arab Ministers Cautious About Peace Conference Proposal - 2002-05-18

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Beirut have said they will press ahead with a Saudi-proposed Middle East peace initiative adopted in March by the Arab League. But the ministers expressed reservations about a U.S.-backed proposal for a peace conference, in light of Israel's recent incursion into Palestinian territories.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said that Arab countries are resolved to promote the Saudi peace initiative, despite what he termed 'the bad situation in the Palestinian territories.'

But Mr. Moussa told a news conference after the ministers' talks that it would be difficult to talk about a peace conference due to, in his words, 'occupation, murder and sabotage' in the Palestinian territories.

Last week, the Israeli military ended its incursion targeting militants in the West Bank, which was launched in response to Palestinian suicide attacks. It has continued to launch raids and make further arrests in territory under Palestinian control.

The Saudi peace initiative would offer Israel normal relations with the Arab world, in return for Israel's withdrawal from all land captured since the 1967 war.

Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, Mohamed Kamal, says Arab countries will only agree to any peace conferences and negotiations that deal with so-called final status issues.

"They want to emphasize that the conference should deal with permanent issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the final status issues, the Palestinian state, the withdrawal from Golan [Heights], settlements," Mr. Kamal said.

At the end of the Beirut meeting Saturday, Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said Arab countries had begun promoting the Saudi plan through contacts with the United States, European Union, Russia, the United Nations and Islamic countries.