INTERNATIONAL

U.S. “aim is to divide Arab world”: Syria

Atul Aneja

DUBAI: The sharpening divide between U.S.-backed Arab nations and those with close ties with Iran was accentuated during the Arab League summit that opened in the Syrian capital Damascus on Saturday.

The heads of state from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan — all key U.S. allies in the region — are not participating in the summit. Host Syria is a close ally of Iran. It is also friendly with Iran-backed Hizbollah in Lebanon, and the Palestinian group, Hamas.

The Arab countries, not participating at the highest level, are protesting against Syria’s reluctance to end the political crisis in Lebanon, where Hizbollah is a key player.

Though not an Arab League member, Iran, led by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, has been invited to the summit.

On the eve of the conference, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said the U.S. was trying to sow divisions among Arabs by calling upon its Arab allies to stay away from the summit. “They [the U.S.] did their best to prevent the summit but they failed,” Mr. Moualem told reporters. “Their aim is to divide the Arab world.” However, he pledged that there would be “no trace of the United States on the summit’s work or agenda.” In his inaugural address, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad made three specific points. First, he reasserted that the problems caused due to Israeli occupation of Arab lands could not be settled separately.

The Arab-Israeli conflict revolves around the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights that have belonged to Syria. Besides, Israel also has a dispute with Lebanon over the Shebba farms, and with the Palestinians over the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

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