Arab states seek end to violence in Syria

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 13, 2011 8:34 AM
Arab states seek end to violence in Syria

By Andrew Hammond and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab League states want Syria to use dialogue, not arms, to address a five-month-old rebellion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been trying to crush with tanks and troops, the League's head said on Tuesday.

In an opening address to an Arab foreign ministers' meeting, Arab League chairman Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister, also urged the international community to back a Palestinian bid for statehood, which Arabs will support at the United Nations this month.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said he had agreed a series of measures with Assad on Saturday after a brief visit to Damascus, and would present them to the foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo, called to discuss Syria and other Arab issues.

"We think the solution must come through ending the use of arms, putting an end to bloodshed and resorting to wisdom and dialogue," Sheikh Hamad said.

Sheikh Hamad, who is also Qatar's foreign minister, praised those in the international community who supported the Palestinian bid for statehood.

"We look forward to support for the state of Palestine's request to go to the United Nations to win permanent membership," he said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Arab states had agreed to push for Palestinian membership of the United Nations despite a U.S. threat to block such a move.

"There is an Arab consensus to go to the United Nations to seek Palestine's membership on the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital," he said after a meeting of Arab states at the League late on Monday.

ARAB LEAGUE TEAM

Arab foreign ministers -- who began efforts in July to organize backing for the Palestinian bid -- decided to set up a team comprising the Arab League head and six League members to further pursue the controversial application, due to be submitted when the U.N. General Assembly opens on September 19.

Elaraby said Arab states were in contact with various parties to ensure widest recognition of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinians decided to seek U.N. recognition of statehood after years of negotiations with Israel failed to deliver the independent state they want to establish in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem -- areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

The Palestinians currently hold U.N. observer status. Full member status would require approval in the Security Council, where Israel's ally the United States says it will veto any such resolution.

Diplomats in New York have said it is not clear what the Palestinians will do at the U.N. General Assembly. They could seek lower status as a "non-member state," which would require a simple majority of the 193-nation Assembly.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who was in Cairo for talks with Arab ministers on the Palestinian bid, said the European Union had not decided on a united position yet.

"There is no resolution on the table yet, so there is no position," she said on Monday.

"We want to see a just and fair settlement, we want to see the people of Palestine and the people of Israel living side by side in peace and security, and I will do everything I can to help achieve that."

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba, Sami Aboudi and Ayman Samir; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Kevin Liffey)