December 27, 2008 / 12:48 PM / 10 years ago

Arab foreign ministers to meet on Gaza

CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers will meet in Cairo on Sunday to seek a common position on Israeli raids which killed at least 195 people in the Gaza Strip, the Arab League said on Saturday.

Several Arab countries, including Qatar, Syria and Yemen, suggested an early Arab summit in response to the violence, and Libya, the only Arab country on the U.N. Security Council, will seek an urgent meeting of the council in New York.

“The council of Arab foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary and immediate meeting tomorrow or the day after ... at the request of Jordan,” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said. His spokesman said later it would be Sunday.

“It will take a joint Arab position on what is happening and at the same time agree on the steps to be taken,” Moussa added.

But Omani Information Minister Hamad bin Mohammed al-Rashdi told Reuters in Muscat that a meeting of Gulf foreign ministers would go ahead as planned on Sunday. Ministers can send deputies or ambassadors to the Cairo meeting.

Moussa said the attacks on Saturday were only the beginning.

“We are facing a continuing spectacle which has been carefully planned. So we have to expect that there will be many casualties. We face a major humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

A separate Arab League statement condemned the Israeli attacks and said Jordan and Egypt wanted the foreign ministers to “call for an end to the massacres which Israel is committing against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

In Damascus, the official SANA news agency said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in contact with Arab leaders on the possibility of holding an emergency Arab summit to discuss what a Syrian official source called a “heinous crime.”

The agency said that Assad, who hosted the last Arab summit earlier this year, spoke to the leaders of Qatar, Libya, Sudan and Yemen to discuss the Israeli raids on Gaza.

“Syria ... calls on Arab leaders to hold an emergency Arab summit to discuss the dangerous situation in Gaza,” the source said.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, also proposed that Arab leaders follow up the foreign ministers meeting by holding a summit, the Arab League said.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh condemned the attack as a “barbaric aggression” and called for an emergency Arab summit to discuss it, Yemen’s state news agency Saba reported.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora also condemned Israel’s “latest massacres” in Gaza and appealed in a statement to the United Nations and its secretary-general to take swift measures to end the Israeli attacks.

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