Divided Arab League Calls For Halt To Gaza Strikes Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo to discuss the crisis in Gaza as the Israeli military operation there, as well as Palestinian rocket fire into Israel, continued for a fifth day. But as often happens at Arab League meetings, while the rhetoric was strong, the unity of purpose was scarce.
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Divided Arab League Calls For Halt To Gaza Strikes

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Divided Arab League Calls For Halt To Gaza Strikes

Divided Arab League Calls For Halt To Gaza Strikes

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo today and called for the United Nations to halt Israel's bombing of Gaza. The UN Security Council scheduled a meeting for this evening to discuss the crisis. Israel's bombing continued for a fifth day as did Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. In a moment, we'll hear several views on the end game of Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. First, as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo, there are worries the violence could spread beyond Gaza.

PETER KENYON: As often happens at Arab League meetings, the rhetoric was strong, but the unity of purpose was scarce. Secretary General Amr Moussa condemned the Israeli bombing of Gaza, while Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal said it never would have happened had the Palestinians remained unified. With the Arab League essentially kicking the crisis back to the UN Security Council, attention turned to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is traveling in the region trying to find a way to restore the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. After meeting with Erdogan today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad released a statement saying both agreed it's impossible to talk about peace while Israel continues its attacks on Gaza. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a pre-recorded year-end speech that denounced what he called the criminal Israeli aggression in Gaza. Rather than blaming Hamas for the violence as he did five days ago, Abbas is now inviting Hamas and other factions to join in the unity government. Abbas did not join the chorus of criticism against Egypt for it's handling of the crisis.

(Soundbite of prerecorded year-end speech of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas)

President MAHMOUD ABBAS (Palestinian Authority): (Through Translator) This is not the time to exchange blames while our people, our cause is under grave threat, under a massive massacre.

KENYON: A number of Arab commentators noted the irony of Egypt playing host to the Arab League at a time when its reputation has plummeted around the Arab world. Cairo University analyst Mustafa Kamal Sayed says Egypt brought that upon itself through a string of diplomatic blunders starting with what he called the very naive move of inviting the Israeli foreign minister to Cairo after the Israeli Cabinet had already approved the aerial assault on Gaza. Sayed says since then, Egypt has missed a number of opportunities to help the Palestinians by opening the Egypt-Gaza border and to register its opposition by recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv or suspending natural gas exports to Israel. He doesn't think there will be a major political realignment in the Arab world as a result of this violence, but he says the short-term consequences could be dangerous enough.

Mr. MUSTAFA KAMAL SAYED (Analyst, Cairo University): The gulf between Arab governments and the public opinion is going to widen. And the popularity of the Islamic movement is going to increase.

KENYON: That is precisely what happened following Israel's war with the Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon two years ago. And only recently were some of those strained relations beginning to heal. Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, chairman of the Arab Thought Form, said bluntly that the inability to end the violence was largely due to politics, including inter-Arab disputes, an American administration in transition and domestic Israeli politics. The result, he said, is Israel plunging ahead with a policy that's intended to weaken Hamas, but appears to be having just the opposite effect.

Prince HASSAN BIN TALAL (Jordan): It is already backfiring in terms of recovery of what is clearly shooting fish in a barrel. This is not a sideshow intended only to play a major factor in Israeli politics in the coming elections, it's not a sideshow to promote Hamas' street cred with Islamists all over the world as with Hezbollah. This is actually about the future of the stability of the region.

KENYON: As 2008 winds down with no end in sight to the violence, several governments including the Emirate of Dubai, the capital of glitz and bling in the region canceled official New Year celebrations in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.

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