Arab leaders meeting at an annual summit Saturday were united in outrage over the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, according to draft resolutions that also condemned terrorism and reiterated calls for Arab-Israeli peace.
But their initial efforts were overshadowed by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s walkout and subsequent threat to withdraw from the 22-member Arab League. He later criticized peace initiatives backed by Arab leaders, saying any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must include giving refugees back the land they lost to Israel in 1948 and 1967 wars.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a major player in the Middle East, and Gadhafi were among those who arrived just before Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali opened the session.
The Arabs “look forward to results that would rise to their ambitions of cooperation and solidarity,” Ben Ali said to open the meeting of Arab kings, emirs, presidents, prime ministers and delegates from the Arab League’s 21 countries. He asked delegates to stand in a moment of silence for the Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks.
He also called for more international efforts to reactivate the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan that envisages a Palestinian state by next year. He called for international protection of the Palestinian people, a halt to Israeli “violations,” and suspension of the construction of an Israeli security barrier.
Call for Iraqi sovereignty
The Tunisian president stressed the need for Iraq to regain its sovereignty.
“While underlining the necessity for Iraq to recover its sovereignty as soon as possible, and for the United Nations to assume its responsibilities in the current political process, we express the hope of seeing these steps brought to completion, while preserving the dignity, unity and territorial integrity of the brotherly Iraqi people in overcoming the difficult situation it currently knows.”
Security around the venue was tight, with roads blocked and black-clad commandos deployed outside the center and a nearby hotel where many of the delegations were staying.
Late Friday, foreign ministers huddled in an informal meeting to put the final touches on the draft resolutions before submitting them to their leaders for endorsement at the two-day summit.
High on the agenda were the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the recent escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories, particularly the Gaza Strip, where 40 Palestinians have been killed in the past week in an Israeli offensive in the Rafah refugee camp on the Egyptian border.
The Arab summit was scheduled for late March but was canceled by Tunisia at the last minute amid divisions and recriminations among Arab officials. However, all the Arab countries are represented by an official delegate at the summit.
U.S. prisoner abuse scandal looms over summit
An issue that has united virtually all the leaders was the prisoner abuse scandal by U.S. troops in Iraq.
A draft resolution to be submitted to the leaders for approval includes a strong condemnation of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, while backing trials for officials of the former regime of Saddam Hussein for crimes committed against Iraqis and others during their rule.
“The leaders strongly condemn the crimes and inhuman and immoral acts” committed by troops against the Iraqi people, particularly those imprisoned. The draft resolution demanded trials and punishment for the perpetrators’ “ugly crimes.”
The resolution also denounces “terrorist bombings” that have killed innocent Iraqis and the heavy use of force by occupation soldiers.
The Arab summit is expected to conclude Sunday with a resolution calling for the relaunching of a peace-for-land initiative to end the 56-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict that was endorsed by an Arab summit in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2002.
The Bush administration plans to formally unveil its plan for Mideast reform that has been criticized by some as interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries. The plan, known as the Greater Middle East Initiative, will be launched at the G-8 summit of major industrial countries June 8-10 in the United States.