CAIRO // Palestinian factions should put aside their differences and unite, Amr Mussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, said yesterday at an emergency ministerial summit to address the ongoing violence in Gaza. "We call on our Palestinian brothers to hold an immediate reconciliation meeting," Mr Mussa said. Foreign ministers from the 22 member Arab states had flown into Cairo for the hastily convened meeting to draw up a united response to developments in Gaza.
Before talks began, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, met with Mr Mussa to discuss how Israeli aggression could be stopped and talks between all Palestinian groups started, the official state news agency, WAM, reported. Prince Saud al Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, joined Mr Mussa's calls for reconciliation between the Islamic group Hamas and Fatah, the two main factions in the territory.
"This horrible massacre wouldn't have happened if the Palestinian people were standing united behind a unified leadership ... We tell our Palestinian brothers that unfortunately your Arab community won't be able to extend a real helping hand to you if you don't extend loving hands to each other," said Prince Saud. "Your Arab community is not concerned about distributing accusations and blame to this side or that, but cares about ending the scary divisions."
More than 390 people have been killed and thousands injured since Saturday in the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, the worst violence there since 1967. Israel's pounding of Gaza began after its six-month truce with Hamas ran out on Dec 19. Israel says it is targeting Hamas for continuing to fire rockets into Israel. Rockets from Gaza hit the city of Beersheba, 46km into Israel, again yesterday.
"What's going on in Gaza can't be described but being a human massacre and crime which would only lead to more violence and extremism and abandoning peace and security which Israel claims it is seeking," said Prince Saud. Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, when internecine fighting broke out between the group and Fatah, the party of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. "Organisations are mortal and slogans won't last, but the great Palestinian people have been there since the dawn of history and will remain until the end," Prince Saud said.
Mr Mussa said there must be an "immediate halt to Israeli aggression" and urged the UN Security Council not to give in to pressure from certain powers and to act speedily to avoid a repeat of "Lebanon's tragedy in 2006". Foreign ministers were still locked in talks late last night. They were due to discuss a Qatari proposal to hold an emergency Arab summit in Doha on what action to take over the Gaza crisis.
People across the Arab world have held protests and vigils in solidarity with the Palestinians but their leaders have yet to take any concrete action on the crisis. This week's GCC summit in Muscat deferred any decision on Gaza to the Arab League meeting. Angry protests against the lack of unified action took place outside the Arab League building in Cairo yesterday. The UAE Ministry of Interior said yesterday it would waive visit and residency visa charges for Palestinians, after a directive from Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE.
* With additional reporting by AFP