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Arabs expected to back Egypt truce efforts for Gaza

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sat, 17 Nov 2012 19:35 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Ministerial meeting called after Israel attacks

* Qatar calls for humanitarian support for Gaza

* Ministers say Arab efforts made little difference in past

By Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad

CAIRO, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers will consider on Saturday a draft statement that calls for the Arab League chief to lead a delegation to Gaza and supports Egypt's efforts to negotiate a truce, an Arab diplomatic source said.

But ministers meeting at the Cairo-based headquarters said Arab states had to take practical steps to support Palestinians in Gaza. Israel launched a massive air campaign on Wednesday.

"Today we will issue a statement. What will it mean? It won't mean anything," said Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. "We need to do something practical for those suffering, at least from a humanitarian point of view."

The ministerial meeting was called shortly after Israel began its attacks with the declared aim of deterring Hamas in Gaza from launching cross-border rockets that have plagued southern Israel for years.

"I am not talking about war or military action ... I am talking about offering support to our brothers in Palestine," Sheikh Hamad said. Qatar's emir pledged ${esc.dollar}400 million to help develop Gaza during visit there in October.

Lebanon's minister said Arabs should review any communications with Israel. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby accused Israel of "ugly crimes".

But several ministers voiced frustration at the failure of Arab declarations or initiatives to make any difference in the past. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the League building, some chanting for a "bombardment of Tel Aviv."

On Saturday, Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in the Palestinian territory, after Israel's cabinet authorised the mobilisation of up to 75,000 reservists, preparing for a possible ground invasion.

Egypt had brokered an informal truce in October, which has since collapsed. It now says it is seeking a new deal.

VISITS TO GAZA

The Arab diplomatic source, who declined to be named, said the draft to be discussed by the ministers expressed the Cairo-based League's support for Egypt's efforts to achieve a "long-term truce" between Israel and Palestinian factions.

As well as condemning Israel for "aggression" and calling for it to stop attacks, the draft called for League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby to lead a delegation of ministers to Gaza "immediately" to show solidarity with Palestinians.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem visited Gaza on Saturday, a day after Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil crossed the border into the Palestinian enclave, condemning Israeli actions and pledging to work for a truce.

The ministerial draft also called for the U.N. Security Council to take the necessary steps to halt the violence and "protect the Palestinian people."

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi was due to hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis, a presidential source said.

Turkish premier Tayyip Erdogan has been an outspoken critic of Israel, while Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Gaza in October, breaking the isolation of the Palestinian group. Both arrived in Egypt earlier in the day.

Erdogan, whose trip was planned before the Gaza violence surged, praised Egypt's decision to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv in response to Israel's attacks. Turkey withdrew its envoy in 2010 over a separate incident.

Meshaal held talks on Saturday with Egyptian security officials on prospects for a truce, an Egyptian official told Reuters. "Efforts (towards a truce) will continue with all sides of the conflict today (Saturday)," the official added.

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