Atul Aneja

Protest against Syria over crisis in Lebanon

Decisions on Israel-Palestine conflict unlikely at summit

Jordan monarch too may keep away

DUBAI: Differences with Syria over the situation in Lebanon has led key Arab leaders, including King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to decide against participating in the Arab summit in Damascus on March 29.

It is also likely that King Abdullah II of Jordan will not attend the annual heads of state conference while Lebanon will not be represented at the summit.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan have close ties with the U.S., while Syria is Iran’s key ally. Like Iran, it has supported the Lebanese group Hizbollah, which opposes the March 14 forces — a pro-Western coalition backed by several Arab countries.

Analysts say Riyadh and Cairo’s decision to stay away from the summit is an expression of protest against Syria. Syria is not seen as doing enough to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon, whose deeply factionalised parliament has been unable to elect a new President.

Pro-Western agenda

The March 14 forces have accused Hizbollah of blocking a resolution to the crisis. Hizbollah, on the other hand, says the March 14 forces are foisting a pro-Western agenda on Lebanon.

Departing from the practice of substituting the presence of its head of state by a Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia is sending its permanent representative at the Arab League — an envoy of ambassadorial rank — to the conference. Similarly, Egypt’s Minister of State for Legal Affairs, Mufid Shihab, will head his country’s delegation.

In the absence of important heads of state, it is unlikely that the Arab League will be able to take major decisions aimed at defusing the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as the crises in Lebanon and Iraq.