Arab lead­ers meet to unify ranks with eye on Iran, Is­rael.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AYA BATRAWY BRIEFLY

DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARA­BIA | Saudi Ara­bia used its perch as host of an an­nual gath­er­ing of Arab lead­ers on Sun­day to push for a uni­fied stance against ri­val Iran as the re­gional pow­er­houses vie for the up­per hand in wars in Syria and Ye­men.

Saudi King Sal­man told lead­ers from across the 22-mem­ber Arab League that Iran was to blame for in­sta­bil­ity and med­dling in the re­gion. He said Ye­meni rebel Houthis, backed by Iran, had fired 116 mis­siles at the king­dom since Saudi Ara­bia went to war in Ye­men three years ago to try and roll back Houthi gains there.

The sum­mit took place in the oil-rich east­ern Saudi city of Dhahran, a lo­ca­tion that may have been se­lected by the king­dom to avoid cross-bor­der Houthi mis­sile strikes that have tar­geted the cap­i­tal, Riyadh, and south­ern bor­der cities.

While locked in proxy con­flicts in Ye­men and Syria, Saudi Ara­bia and Iran also back op­pos­ing groups in Le­banon, Bahrain and Iraq.

The sum­mit this year takes place af­ter the U.S., Bri­tain and France launched dozens of airstrikes early Satur­day at sites they said were linked to Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram. Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and his close ally, Rus­sia, have de­nied gov­ern­ment forces ever used such weapons.

Arab League Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said Mr. As­sad’s gov­ern­ment and “in­ter­na­tional play­ers try­ing to achieve their own strate­gic po­lit­i­cal goals” bear re­spon­si­bil­ity for the col­lapse of that na­tion.

“Re­gional in­ter­fer­ence in Arab af­fairs has reached an un­prece­dented de­gree. And first of these is the Ira­nian in­ter­fer­ence, the aim of which is not for the well-be­ing of the Arabs or their in­ter­ests,” he said.

Mr. As­sad was not in­vited to the sum­mit, though most heads of state from across the Mid­dle East and North Africa at­tended the Arab League meet­ing, in­clud­ing Sudanese Pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court for al­leged war crimes in Dar­fur.

Saudi ten­sions with neigh­bor­ing Qatar were also on dis­play at the sum­mit. Qatar’s emir was not in at­ten­dance, in­stead dis­patch­ing his coun­try’s Arab League rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the meet­ing.

Ten­sions erupted nearly a year ago when Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Bahrain and Egypt sev­ered ties with Qatar and im­posed a de facto block­ade on the small Gulf state. The four ac­cuse Qatar of spon­sor­ing ter­ror­ism be­cause of its sup­port for Is­lamist op­po­si­tion groups in the re­gion and its warm re­la­tions with Iran. Qatar de­nies the al­le­ga­tions and says the moves at­tempt to un­der­mine its sovereignty.

The stand­off with Qatar, how­ever, is not ex­pected to fea­ture in the sum­mit.

In­stead, Arab heads of state stressed in their open­ing re­marks unity and un­wa­ver­ing sup­port for Pales­tini­ans. King Sal­man re­it­er­ated Saudi Ara­bia’s re­jec­tion of the U.S. de­ci­sion to move its em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem and to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael.

The king also an­nounced Saudi Ara­bia had do­nated $150 mil­lion to the re­li­gious ad­min­is­tra­tion that over­sees Mus­lim sites in Jerusalem, in­clud­ing Al-Aqsa mosque, which is one of Is­lam’s holi­est sites. He an­nounced an­other $50 mil­lion for pro­grams run by the U.N. re­lief agency for Pales­tini­ans af­ter the U.S. slashed its aid.

The strong­est crit­i­cism of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion came from Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, who slammed U.S. de­ci­sions on Jerusalem and its de­ci­sion to with­hold mil­lions of dol­lars to the U.N. agency that pro­vides health care, ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial ser­vices to an es­ti­mated 5 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans.

“The de­ci­sions have made the United States a party to the con­flict and not a neu­tral me­di­a­tor,” he said.

Mean­while, Mr. Aboul-Gheit blamed a lack of con­sen­sus among Arab states on a uni­fied un­der­stand­ing of re­gional se­cu­rity, adding that “joint ac­tion is nec­es­sary in fight­ing these crises.”

“The crises burn­ing in some cor­ners of the Arab world to­day … cast a shadow over the safety and se­cu­rity over the en­tire re­gion,” Mr. Aboul-Gheit said. “These take a toll on the na­tional se­cu­rity of all of us.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Re­gional in­ter­fer­ence in Arab af­fairs has reached an un­prece­dented de­gree,” said Arab League Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, Ahmed Aboul Gheit (left) at the sum­mit of lead­ers.

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