Syrian war dominates Arab summit

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attends the 25th Arab League summit at Bayan palace in Kuwait City on March 25, 2014. (Photo: Yasser al-Zayyat)

Published Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Syria's opposition called for "sophisticated" arms at an Arab summit in Kuwait Tuesday while Saudi Arabia said the military balance needed to change to "end the impasse" in Syria's war.

But UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi insisted on the need for a "political solution" to the three-year conflict, urging an "end to the supply of arms to all parties."

Opposition Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmed Jarba repeated calls on the international community to supply rebels with "sophisticated weapons" as the two-day summit opened.

"I do not ask you for a declaration of war," said Jarba, urging Arab leaders to put pressure on world powers to fullfil pledges to supply arms.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, whose country is a key backer of the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, said the world was "betraying" rebels by failing to arm them and leaving them as "easy prey."

A solution to the conflict, in which pro government forces have recently made significant advances, requires a "change in the balance on the ground to end the impasse," he said.

National Coalition spokesman Louay Safi said rebels urgently needed "anti-aircraft missiles" to defend against barrel bombs that the Syrian air force has been dropping over rebel held areas.

Brahimi urged a revival of peace talks.

"I call upon Europe, the United Nations and the United States to take clear steps to reactivate the Geneva talks," which broke off on February 15.

"There is no military solution," he stressed.

On the humanitarian front, the president Lebanon, one of several Syrian neighbors dealing with refugees, told the evening session his country was overburdened by the influx and called for help.

Michel Sleiman said Lebanon was no longer capable of accepting more Syrian refugees, who now make up about one-fifth the population.

He warned without elaborating that, if Beirut does not receive help, "we may look into legal ways to stop their influx."

Meanwhile, a regional rift over Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has been kept off the summit agenda.

But Egyptian President Adli Mansur called for interior and justice ministers meet before the end of June to activate the Arab counter-terrorism treaty.

Mansour made no specific mention of the Muslim Brotherhood of his ousted predecessor Mohammed Mursi, which Cairo designated a terrorist organization in December.

But he told the summit it was vital that League members extradite and not give shelter to "terrorists" wanted by fellow member states. That was a veiled reference to Qatar, accused of harboring fugitive Brotherhood leaders.

Relations between Egypt and Qatar have nosedived since the army's overthrow of Mursi last July.

And Qatar's support for the Brotherhood has strained ties with fellow Gulf states – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – who withdrew their ambassadors from Doha earlier this month.

Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, told the summit these rifts are threatening Arab aspirations and insisted that "we are required to resolve these disputes... and achieve unity."

Shortly before the gathering began Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah, smiling broadly, stood between Saudi Crown Prince Salman and Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, holding hands with them in an apparent attempt to convey a mood of reconciliation.

But Kuwaiti foreign ministry undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah said the dispute would "be resolved within the Gulf house," not at the summit.

On the Palestinian issue, Arab leaders are expected to call for $100 million (72.5 million euros) in monthly aid for the Palestinian Authority and to reject demands by Israel that Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, fresh from talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington last week, told the summit that Palestinians "reject even discussing the issue."

He warned of Israeli plans to divide Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, highly revered by Muslims worldwide, between Jews and Muslims "which we totally reject."

(AFP, Reuters)

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