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Arab League makes Palestinian unity a prerequisite for help.

Byline: The Daily Star

Summary: Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa called on Wednesday for an immediate meeting of rival Palestinian factions, at the opening of an emergency session on how to deal with Israel's Gaza onslaught. "We call on our Palestinian brothers to hold an immediate reconciliation meeting," Moussa told foreign ministers from the 22-member.

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa called on Wednesday for an immediate meeting of rival Palestinian factions, at the opening of an emergency session on how to deal with Israel's Gaza onslaught.

"We call on our Palestinian brothers to hold an immediate reconciliation meeting," Moussa told foreign ministers from the 22-member pan-Arab bloc seeking a response to Israel's five-day bombardment of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The Israeli offensive has killed at least 390 people, including 42 children, and wounded more than 1,900 others since Saturday. Gaza-based resistance fighters have continued to fire their rockets, killing four Israelis, including a soldier.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Arab nations could not "extend their hand" to the Palestinians as long as they remained divided between Hamas in Gaza and president Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah in the Occupied West Bank.

"It's time for Palestinian factions to hold a decisive meeting that will lead to [forming] a government of national unity," Faisal said.

Hamas, which Israel says it is targeting for firing rockets at the Jewish state, has controlled the Gaza Strip since violently ejecting Fatah followers in June 2007 after the Islamist won democratic elections in 2006.

The Islamists won Palestinian elections in 2006 but have since been boycotted by Israel and much of the West for refusing to recognize Israel. A previous unity government was rejected by the same parties because it included democratically elected Hams members.

Citing arrests of more than 200 of its members in the West Bank by Abbas' security forces, Hamas pulled out of Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation talks in November that were aimed at forming a non-factional Palestinian cabinet that would be acceptable to Israel and the West.

Israel's pounding of Gaza began after the expiration on December 19 of a six-month truce with Hamas, also mediated by Egypt, and a renewal of Gaza-based rocket fire after Israeli forces invaded in early November killing seven Hamas men.

The Arab League talks were taking place as Israel said it was mulling proposals for a truce in Gaza but ruled out a French-proposed temporary halt.

Palestinian Ambassador to Cairo Nabil Amr said the talks would seek to put a resolution before the United Nations Security Council condemning the violence and calling for an end to the bloodshed.

So far the council, where the United States wields a veto, has only issued a non-binding "statement" on the crisis.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said the Palestinian leader was also in contact with members of the Security Council "in a bid to obtain a resolution ... as soon as possible."

While Arab public opinion is firmly against Israel's strikes, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to protest, Arab leaders have so far failed to take any decisions on the crisis.

"Arab nations could do a lot against Israel, but as they are divided, unfortunately they won't do anything," Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP.

Reflecting popular displeasure with the lack of Arab action, several protesters were arrested in front of the Arab League headquarters in downtown Cairo on Wednesday.

A Gulf Cooperation Council summit involving Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates held in Muscat on Tuesday deferred any decision on Gaza to the Cairo meeting.

Gulf regimes and Egypt have already stressed that the Palestinians should first resolve their own internal divisions.

Wednesday's meeting was also discuss a Qatari proposal to hold an emergency Arab summit in Doha on how to deal with the Gaza crisis.

League official Hisham Yussef said that 10 Arab countries had officially accepted the idea of an extraordinary summit, with 14 required for a summit to be convened.

However, Egypt, which has been accused by Hizbullah of complicity in the Gaza strikes by not completely opening its Rafah crossing with Gaza, has said a summit is premature. - AFP, with The Daily Star

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Words:721
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