Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:24 pm (KSA) 17:24 pm (GMT)

Arab summit alarmed by rise in "Islamophobia"

Arab leaders agreed on Doha as the venue for the 2009 summit (File)
Arab leaders agreed on Doha as the venue for the 2009 summit (File)

Arab leaders gathered in Damascus for an annual summit expressed concern on Sunday about what they said was rising Islamophobia around the world amid Muslim anger at a Dutch film linking Islam to terrorism.

"The growth of ferocious attacks against Islam and the rise of Islamophobia are a deep source of concern, particularly given that the offences to Muslims are increasing in countries known for their pluralism and acceptance of difference," Arab leaders said in a final statement.

"The intense polarization the world has seen requires more work in order to reduce the increasing gap between cultures and civilizations."

The statement called for coordination between the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) "to confront this phenomenon as well as the ignorance and racism shown towards Islam, a religion of moderation and tolerance."

The Arab summit's call came amid strong condemnation from around the Muslim world of a film by Dutch MP Geert Wilders which features images of Al-Qaeda attacks in New York and Madrid intertwined with Quranic texts.

There has also been renewed anger in the Muslim world in recent weeks at the republication by the Danish media of a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

The cartoon, which portrays the prophet wearing a turban that looks like a bomb with a lit fuse, was one of a series of 12 first published in September 2005 that sparked protests across the Islamic world.

Failure

On other issues the summit failed to clinch a breakthrough on Lebanon, spotlighting the rift between host Syria and stay-away U.S. allies which blame Beirut's political crisis on Damascus.

A Damascus Declaration -- which Arab League chief Amr Moussa read out at the end of the two-day summit -- called on Lebanon to elect a consensus president and re-endorsed an Arab initiative for peace with Israel.

They also urged Iraq "to disband all militias without exception... and speed up the building and training of the Iraqi armed and security forces... in preparation for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq."

The leaders called on Arab states to bolster their diplomatic representation in Iraq by opening up embassies in the war-torn country.

On Lebanon, "Arab leaders stress their commitment to the Arab initiative to solve the Lebanese crisis, and call on Lebanese leaders to elect consensus candidate General Michel Suleiman at the time agreed," in the final resolutions.

They also called in their resolutions, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, for the strained ties between Lebanon and its former powerbroker Syria to be put "on the right path".

Feuding Lebanese politicians should "decide on the basis for forming a national unity cabinet", in line with an Arab League initiative to end Lebanon's worst political crisis since the end of a 1975-1990 civil war.

Boycotts

Half the leaders of the 22-member Arab League, including the heads of state of heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as Jordan, boycotted the Damascus summit, blaming Syria for Lebanon's protracted crisis.

Washington had urged its allies to think twice before attending the summit, accusing Syria of blocking Lebanon's presidential election.

But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied charges of meddling in Lebanon in his opening address on Saturday.

"It is the contrary which is true because pressure has been exerted on Syria for over a year to interfere in Lebanon's affairs" but Damascus has refused, he said. "They have their nation, their institutions, their constitution."

Lebanon crisis

Lebanon has been without a president since November.

Pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term amid a long-running deadlock between Lebanon's Western-backed ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition, backed by Syria and Iran.

The rival factions have agreed in principle to elect army chief Sleiman as the next president, in line with the Arab initiative, but have been feuding over the formation of a new government.

A parliamentary session to elect a new president has been set for April 22, after 17 previous postponements.

Israeli issue

Arab leaders at their boycott-hit meeting in the Syrian capital also renewed an offer to normalize ties with Israel if the Jewish state withdrew from occupied Arab lands.

The summit "stressed its insistence on maintaining the Arab initiative for peace which represents the main launch pad for resolving the different aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict", according to the final resolutions.

The Saudi-inspired initiative for peace with Israel was first launched at a Beirut summit in 2002 and reactivated in Riyadh last year.

Israeli leaders have spoken of the "positive aspects" of the Arab initiative but it was never formally endorsed by the Jewish state, which rejects a clause calling for the return of Palestinian refugees.

Fault lines

The summit highlighted the increasing polarization between Syria and U.S. allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Saturday called on Syria to make a "positive move" to break the deadlock in Lebanon and "complement the intense efforts exerted by Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab countries".

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in a message, said the Arab world "had hoped that prior to the summit a long-awaited settlement to the crisis... would be reached".

Syria, hosting an Arab summit for the first time, trumpeted the absence of U.S. allies as a triumph over Washington's influence.

"They (the United States) did their best to prevent the summit but they failed," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told reporters. "Their aim is to divide the Arab world."

The leaders agreed on Doha as the venue for their 2009 summit.

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