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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arab Chiefs Arrive for Key Summit

CAIRO -- Arab leaders began to gather in Cairo on Thursday for an Arab summit called to tell the new Israeli government that Arabs will not go further towards Middle East peace unless Israel gives back more Arab land.


At least 12 Arab kings and presidents are expected to be in Cairo by Saturday morning for the opening session of the summit, the first the Arabs have organized since August 1990.


The electoral victory of right-wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanhayu has pushed the Arab states into a show of solidarity but many of the leaders also have other axes to grind in Cairo.


Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, the Emir of Bahrain, was the first Arab head of state to arrive, closely followed by President Hassan Gouled of the Red Sea state of Djibouti.


Four Arab foreign ministers have also arrived and many others will be in Cairo in time for a working dinner on Thursday hosted by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.


Arab diplomats say their leaders will respond to Israeli words only with words, withholding any practical retaliatory measures until Netanyahu puts his policies into practice.


"We want our positions to be based on [Netanyahu's] deeds, not on words," Jordanian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Abdul-Karim al-Kabariti told reporters on Thursday.


Netanyahu has questioned the principle of "land-for-peace," which Arabs say is central to Middle East peace. He opposes a Palestinian state and insists that Israel will retain sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.


An Arab League official said Thursday that Syria would ask the Arabs to suspend normalizing ties with Israel and that there was widespread sympathy for the Syrian position.


"But the final communique may not reflect the reality of the deliberations," he added. "It will try not to subvert the justness of the Arab position. On the contrary it will portray the Israelis as the hardliners."


The Syrian ambassador in Cairo, Issa Darwish, told Reuters: "Normalization with Israel as a confidence-building measure was premature. This is why we have to review everything that has been done, because if normalization goes hand-in-hand with Netanyahu's policies, this means he gains peace and land without paying a price and this would be to give away Arab rights."


The first signs were that some Arabs came with private agendas, in some cases grievances against Arab neighbors.


Syria accused Jordan on Thursday of trying to distract the summit from its main goal of responding to Israeli statements seen as undermining the old basis for peace talks.


Jordan says Syria has been trying to send saboteurs across the border into Jordan and Kabariti said on Thursday that Jordan and Egypt wanted "terrorism" on the summit agenda.


The Syrian government newspaper Tishreen said: "The inclusion of terrorism ... is a flagrant attempt to divert the summit from its main goal, which is the achievement of a unified Arab stand regarding the changes in Israel."