Arab League chief declares peace process ‘dead’

news2_16_7.jpgCAIRO (AFP) — The Arab League on Saturday declared the Middle East peace process to be “dead” as foreign ministers met in an emergency session in Cairo and unanimously condemned the Israeli offensive in Lebanon.

“The Middle East process is dead,” Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Musa said after the meeting called to discuss blistering Israeli strikes on Lebanon that came after Israel began a first offensive in the Gaza Strip.

“All the mechanisms, including the [Middle East] Quartet have failed the peace process or contributed to burying the peace process,” he told reporters.

“The only way to revive the peace process is to take it back to the Security Council,” he continued.

In the face of an uphill battle to contain the escalating violence, ministers warned against the crisis engulfing more countries in the region.

“The situation now is a result of the failure of the Middle East peace process,” echoed the United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Shaali, whose country presided over Saturday’s meeting.

“If the peace process continues to fail, then more problems are expected either in Palestine or in Lebanon or in any other Arab country or in the region,” he said.

As they struggled to maintain a unified front, the foreign ministers who met at the Arab League headquarters said they would ask the United Nations Security Council to handle the Middle East peace process.

The Arab League “condemns the Israeli aggression in Lebanon which contradicts all international law and regulations,” read the final statement, adding that Israel “bears all responsibility to compensate for the loss and destruction which is a result of its aggression on Lebanese soil.” The league also stressed “unconditional support for Lebanon and its steadfastness in the face of this brutal aggression which affects civilians and leads to innocent deaths and huge financial and economic losses,” the statement continued.

Since the capture of two Israeli soldiers by the Lebanese Shiite group Hizbollah on Wednesday, attacks by the Jewish state on Lebanon have killed dozens of civilians and rained destruction down on infrastructure, including the country’s sole international airport in Beirut.

But in indirect remarks pointed at Hizbollah, the league warned against harming Arab interests.

The league “calls on all parties not to undertake acts which will lead to shaking the security and stability of the region, whose effects will be felt by the countries in the region and its people and do not serve its interests,” the final statement said.

Israel has also been leading a punishing air campaign in Gaza since a teenage Israeli soldier was snatched by Palestinian fighters on June 25, sparking the worst Israeli-Palestinian crisis in months.

Both Hizbollah and the Palestinian groups which claimed responsibility for the capture of the Israeli soldier have demanded the release of Arabs detained in Israeli prisons.

The foreign ministers also condemned the Israeli offensive in Gaza and accused the Jewish state of committing war crimes.

The league condemns the “Israeli aggression on Palestinian territories which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the statement said.

But Saturday’s meeting came at a time of profound differences among Arabs on how to confront the situation in the region.

Egypt and Jordan have recongnised Israel and established diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, whereas neighbouring Lebanon and Syria have long been implacable foes of Israel.

Saudi Arabia indirectly accused Hizbollah of “adventurism” in provoking the Israeli onslaught and putting all Arab nations at risk.

But other Arab states warned of a spiralling crisis in the absence of a strong stance by Arab governments.

“Arab people will sooner or later take matters in their own hands if their governments do not find serious ways to give them hope,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh told participants at the Cairo meeting.

Three United Nations envoys — Vijay Nambiar, Alvaro de Soto and Terje Roed-Larsen — sent to Cairo by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis also attended the Arab League meeting.

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