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Arab FMs wrap up extraordinary session on Israel, Lebanon
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Arab foreign ministers wrapped up an extraordinary session on Sunday, urging the Israeli government to halt its settlement activities and calling on the Lebanese to find a solution to its political crisis.


During the meeting on Sunday morning at the headquarters of the Cairo-based Arab League (AL), Arab foreign ministers urged the Israeli government to halt its settlement activities in a bid to help yield tangible results for the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.


The Arab top diplomats called on Israel to activate the monitoring mechanism that was agreed upon during the Annapolis peace conference held in the United States in late November, 2007.


In a draft resolution of the meeting, the Arab Foreign Ministers Council expressed concern over Israel's continued bids on the establishment and expansion of settlements, asserting the need to immediately halt and eliminate all settlements.


At a press conference following the meeting, AL Secretary General Amr Moussa warned that Israeli settlement activities spoil efforts to set up an independent Palestinian state.


Israel was defying the Annapolis conference despite its assurances given to Arabs during and after the gathering, Moussa said, adding "if (Israeli) settlement activities continued, we all will lose confidence in the so-called peace process."


During the US-hosted Annapolis conference, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) agreed to resume talks on the final-status issues, including the settlements.


But shortly after the conference, Israel appealed for tenders to expand a disputed settlement in east Jerusalem, sparking anger among the Palestinians.


The Palestinians and Israel held two rounds of peace talks in December but failed to yield any tangible progress mainly due to the disputed settlement activities.


On Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas termed the issue of settlements as the main obstacle for negotiation after the Annapolis conference, noting that the Palestinian-Israeli talks could not continue with settlement activities going on.


The Palestinians are looking for an active US role to pave the way for launching serious talks with Israel as US President George W. Bush is due to visit the region next week.


As for the resumption of talks between the rival Palestinian movements of Fatah and Hamas, Moussa said that Arab foreign ministers have agreed on a mechanism at the meeting to help reach reconciliation between the two Palestinian groups.


"We had reached very important result on the Lebanese issue, we hope we can reach a similar result concerning the Palestinian dialogue," said the AL chief.


The AL general secretariat will take the first step and submit a report to the Arab Foreign Ministers Council on Jan. 27 when the Arabs are set to sit down again on regional issues.


Talks between the two Palestinian movements stopped when Hamas chased pro-Abbas security forces out of Gaza in June, ending a short-lived unity government and exacerbating a state of feud among Palestinians.


Reconciliation is necessary to strengthen the Palestinian stand during negotiations with Israel, Moussa said.


On the Lebanese crisis, Moussa said he would visit Lebanon within days to discuss a three-point plan adopted Saturday evening at a consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers.


Arab foreign ministers on Saturday evening called for a swift consensus on Lebanese presidential election to choose army chief General Michel Suleiman as president.


After the consultative meeting, the Arab League Council agreed on an overall plan to solve the Lebanese crisis, calling on all parties in Lebanon to reach an immediate agreement on forming a national unity government in line with the constitution.


Arab foreign ministers also stressed the necessity to draft anew election law in Lebanon following the Lebanese presidential election and forming a new government.


The Lebanese presidential seat has been vacant since former President Emile Lahoud ended his term on Nov. 24, 2007, and the sharply divided Lebanese parliament has delayed the presidential elections for 11 times till Jan. 12.


The meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers Council on Jan. 27 will follow up the outcome of Moussa's efforts in this respect.


Moussa said he would present a report to the council and the Arab summit about the results of his upcoming visit to Lebanon.


(Xinhua News Agency January 7, 2008)

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