Arab leaders trying to come up with a plan to rebuild Gaza ended their meeting Tuesday in discord, unable to agree on whether to back Egyptian peace efforts or even set up a joint reconstruction fund for the devastated Palestinian territory.
The deep tensions among rival Arab leaders could affect the fragile cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that ended a three-week Israeli onslaught on the Mediterranean strip. The military campaign to stop militant rocket fire left around 1,300 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials, and material damage estimated at around $2 billion. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.
The violence in Gaza split Arab countries into two camps — one led by Syria and Qatar supporting Hamas hard-liners who rule the territory, and another led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia hoping to lure the Palestinian militant group toward more moderation.
The two-day gathering of Arab leaders in Kuwait that ended Tuesday was expected to announce a fund to rebuild Gaza and a unified statement about how to end the crisis there.
Instead, pledges came in vague and without figures, along with criticism for Israel and threats to hold it accountable for what leaders called “war crimes” in Gaza.
Saudi Arabia was the only Arab country to commit at the opening of the gathering to a $1 billion contribution for rebuilding efforts, and Kuwait’s emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, said the reconstruction should be an “international collective effort.”
By DIANA ELIAS, Associated Press Writer
President Hosni Mubarak, of Egypt, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, Amir of Kuwait and Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Amir of Qatar, from left, walk in to the Arab Economic Summit at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait, Monday, Jan. 19, 2009. The Saudi king said an Arab initiative offering peace with Israel will not remain on the table forever. King Abdullah says Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open.(AP Photo/Ameeri Diwan)
It remains to be seen when the money will be paid and if it will be delivered to Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers or to the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
“An international effort is a million times better,” said Nabil al-Fadhl, columnist for Kuwait’s Al-Watan newspaper. “Do you want to give the donations to Hamas, the illegal authority?”
Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007 from its Palestinian rival, the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which now controls only the West Bank. The two groups have been unable to come up with a power-sharing agreement.
Shortly before a final statement was read, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, without naming specific countries, said leaders were unable to reach a consensus.
“Some are entrenched in their positions,” Zebari told state-owned Kuwait Television.
After the summit ended, Arab League chief Amr Moussa acknowledged he was frustrated.
“Of course the Arab situation is still troubled and tense … and we need to exert efforts to close ranks as much as possible,” he said.