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Leaders of Muslim Nations Denounce Anti-Muslim 'Backlash,' Recent Israeli Strikes - 2003-10-17

Leaders of the world's Muslim nations are calling for unity to face what they say is a backlash against Muslims because of international terrorism and to better address the on-going Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) issued the call at the end of a two-day summit in Malaysia.

The leaders of the 57-member Islamic Conference ended their summit Friday, condemning Israel for its recent strikes against Palestinians and suspected terrorist targets in Syria, and calling on the United Nations to do more to protect their people. A declaration also criticized a recent resolution by the U.S. Congress calling for sanctions against Syria for supporting terrorism.

Iraq did not figure in the declaration, but a communiqué urged an acceleration of the restoration of full Iraqi sovereignty and called on the U.S.-led coalition to protect the civil and religious rights of the Iraqi people. At the same time, the Muslim leaders hailed the establishment of Iraq's interim Governing Council and ministerial cabinet as steps in the right direction.

Delegates reportedly discussed much stronger condemnation of the provisional authority in Iraq, but moderated their position at the urging of the Iraqi delegation. The communiqué also took note of, but did not comment on, Thursday's United Nations resolution on Iraq.

The summit was overshadowed by the opening remarks of its chairman, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, which were criticized by some foreign governments as anti-Jewish. Mr. Mahathir Friday said such criticism was unfair.

"People call Muslims terrorists. They even say the prophet of the Muslims, Mohamed the Prophet, was a terrorist," he said. "People make such statements and they seem to get away with it. But if you say anything at all against the Jews, then you are accused of being anti-Semitic."

The Malaysian prime minister said the main thrust of his speech was a call for an end to violence and terrorist attacks on all sides and that he was urging Muslims to take a step back to think about how to resolve the Palestinian problem and other issues peacefully.

OIC leaders expressed concern over rising sentiment against Muslims because of international terrorism and over stagnant economic and social development in their countries. Many felt the Islamic Conference is not adequately addressing these issues.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said the leaders are reviewing whether the OIC needs to be restructured. "Let us take one step, recognize that we have a problem, the Muslim world," he said. "It has been recognized, I think, by everyone. Number two, that OIC maybe requires to be restructured to meet this challenge. It has been recognized.

President Musharraf added that the next step is to appoint a commission that will recommend ways to ensure that the organization remains relevant in a changing world. It is to present its findings in one year.