Arabs pledge aid to Gaza without consensus on mechanism
AFP - 1 hour 20 minutes ago
KUWAIT CITY (AFP) - - Arab leaders on Tuesday pledged "all forms of support for the reconstruction of Gaza" but failed to set up a specific fund for the war-battered Palestinian enclave, as they wound up a two-day summit.
The leaders of the 22-member Arab League, meeting in Kuwait City, approved a declaration calling for steps to accelerate the economic integration of their countries after struggling to reach consensus on Israel's assault on Gaza.
They vowed to "provide all forms of support for the reconstruction of Gaza" but made no reference to a mechanism for reconstruction.
Arab leaders "welcome all contributions pledged so far by Arab countries," the leaders said in a final statement read out by Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa.
The final session of the Arabs' first ever economic summit gave a rundown of the agreements: to launch a customs union in 2010, to set up a pan-Arab power grid and a rail network project.
The Kuwait Declaration called for "adopting monetary and fiscal policies to enable Arab nations to face the consequences of the global financial crisis."
Arab countries have incurred losses of 2.5 trillion dollars due to the financial and economic turmoil, Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah said last week.
But the talks in Kuwait were marred by differences over Israel's 22-day offensive on Gaza that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and has caused a humanitarian crisis in the coastal strip.
Arab foreign ministers meeting on the sidelines of the summit failed to reach consensus on a final statement on Israel's war on Gaza, Iraq's foreign minister said.
"We held a closed-door session to discuss the final statement on Gaza ... We have not reached a conclusion because of time constraints and some positions," Hoshyar Zebari told Kuwaiti television, without going into details.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad acknowledged: "Realistically speaking, there are differences among Arab brothers."
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Tuesday that his country would cooperate with reconstruction efforts for the Gaza Strip only if the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas did not lead the process.
The Arab world itself has been divided between supporters of Hamas, which rules Gaza, and backers of moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas whose forces the Islamists expelled from the coastal strip in mid-2006.
Arab leaders also announced the establishment of the Arab Development Fund with capital of two billion dollars to provide loans and assistance for Arab joint projects.
The declaration urged "necessary steps to uplift the living standards of Arab citizens and to give priority to promoting inter-Arab investments."
The Arab League estimates that Arab capital invested at home is equivalent to less than 20 percent of funds invested by Arab countries and businessmen in the United States and Europe.
"Despite progress made by some Arab nations, the Arab world is still facing many challenges... especially poverty, unemployment, poor inter-Arab trade and migration of Arab capital and brains," the declaration said.
The leaders called for "strengthening the role of Arab funds and financial institutions by boosting their resources and easing restrictions on providing loans."
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A man pushes another man sitting in a wheelchair through the rubble of houses destroyed during Isreali strikes in Jabalia, Gaza. Arab leaders have pledged "all forms of support for the reconstruction of Gaza" but failed to set up a specific fund for the war-battered Palestinian enclave, as they wound up a two-day summit on Tuesday.
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