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'New era' for Arab co-operation

AMMAN, Jordan -- The Arab League summit began in Jordan with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak calling for greater co-operation between Arab countries.

The summit is expected to discuss the fate of Middle East peacemaking under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and support for the Palestinian uprising.

The summit is the first regular gathering of the group since the 1990-91 Gulf crisis.

In his opening speech, Mubarak said it was the start of a "new era" for Arab countries in which the league could take a more active role.

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He urged Arab countries to improve relationships between themselves and also between Arab countries and other countries.

Fourteen heads of state have arrived in Jordan for the summit, but notable absentees include Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has described the summit as the most important yet.

"This summit is held during a difficult time, especially for the Palestinian people, who face a dangerous military escalation on our towns and villages," Arafat said.

Conflicting hopes
Israel's expectations:
A "moderate" tone of debate
That the Israeli/Palestinian conflict does not dominate discussion.
That Jordan and Egypt play a moderating role.
The failure of resolutions aimed at a getting greater international involvement in the region.
Palestinian expectations:
Greater financial and political support for the intifada.
Arab backing for an international force in the region and for UN security council resolutions to this effect.
A total Arab boycott of Israel.
Source: From CNN Jerusalem bureau

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will also attend Tuesday's summit -- billed as the Summit of Accord and Agreement -- in Amman.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who stayed away from an emergency summit in Cairo in October and publicly ridiculed its draft resolutions, will also attend.

The Palestinian Authority wants the 22 nations attending the summit to pledge diplomatic and financial support to its intifada during the summit.

The authority is facing a financial crisis and is unable to pay the salaries of its 130,000 employees as a result of Israel's refusal to hand over tax revenues collected from Palestinians working in Israel.

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia favour pursuing diplomatic means to resolve the crisis, while Syria prefers a complete cut in all diplomatic ties and a revival of the Arab boycott of Israel.

The Israeli Government will also be on the agenda, as Arab leaders discuss how to deal with Sharon, widely despised in the Arab world, and the peace process.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has won widespread praise for Baghdad's rhetorical and material support for the Palestinian uprising and the league's relations with Iraq is also on the agenda.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf has demanded that the summit support his country's demands for an end to both U.N. sanctions and U.S. and British air patrols over Iraq.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, although supporting an easing of sanctions, remain bitterly opposed to rehabilitating Baghdad until the Iraqi leadership apologises for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

They also want Baghdad to account for hundreds of Kuwaitis and other nationals who went missing during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

Middle East analyst Amir Taheri told CNN that the leaders would probably give verbal support to Iraq, but it was unlikely they would call for the removal of sanctions.

Maintaining the balance of power in the region was preferable to taking risks, he added.



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