CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League delayed until Wednesday an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers called to take a common position on Israeli raids which killed more than 200 people in Gaza on Saturday.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters the meeting was postponed because many ministers were busy in separate meetings of two Arab regional groups — the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Maghreb Union.
“The time worries us very much because of the delay in holding the ministerial meeting but we will not remain silent and consultations are continuing,” he added.
Earlier on Saturday, Arab League officials said the ministerial meeting would take place on Sunday evening, unusually soon after the events to which it would respond.
Moussa said he would present to the ministers a request from Qatar and Syria that the Arabs hold a summit meeting, and the ministers would decide on the proposal.
In parallel with these Arab meetings, the Arab League has asked Libya to seek an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, of which Libya is now the only Arab member.
Arab countries unanimously condemned the Israeli attacks on Gaza and call for an end to the violence.
But the calls for an emergency summit meeting appeared to meet some initial reaction. Only four or five of the 22 member governments have endorsed the idea, well short of the 14 needed, said an Arab League official, who asked not to be named.
Arab leaders are often reluctant to holding summits in time of crisis without extensive preparations, for fear that the results will fall short of popular expectations.
Moussa said the purpose of a summit would be “to discuss the situation and take the necessary decisions.”
Hamas, the target of many of the Israeli raids on Saturday, said Arab countries should break ties with Israel, if they have them, and all should work to end the blockade of Gaza.
But Egypt, the only Arab country bordering Gaza, has refused to break ties and for months it has taken part in the blockade of Gaza by keeping that border closed most of the time.
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 the Arab summit to discuss what a Syrian official source called a “heinous crime.”
The agency said that Assad, who hosted the last Arab summit, spoke to the leaders of Qatar, Libya, Sudan and Yemen to discuss the Israeli raids on Gaza.
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 be held to discuss it, Yemen’s state news agency Saba said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora appealed in a statement to the United Nations and its secretary-general to take swift measures to end the Israeli attacks.
Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki in Beirut and Firouz Sedarat in Dubai; Editing by Sami Aboudi