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Arab leaders: Closer cooperation depends on Israel

Arab League foreign ministers

Israel arrests dozens of suspected Islamic militants

September 21, 1997
Web posted at: 10:31 p.m. EDT (0231 GMT)

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Arab League foreign ministers have reached a consensus that further economic cooperation between Arab countries and Israel will be contingent on Israel's willingness to comply with the terms of its peace accords with the Palestinians.

Wrapping up a meeting in Cairo Sunday, the Arab leaders agreed that their participation in a November conference in Qatar, where closer economic integration between Israel and its neighbors is to be discussed, will be linked to Israel reversing what the Arabs see as breaches of the peace accords.

"The question should be what possibility is there for (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to alter his policies and cooperate and respect the principles of the peace process," says Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. "This would really open the door for full participation or general participation."

Crackdown on suspected militants in Nablus

Meanwhile, in the West Bank Sunday, Israeli authorities arrested dozens of Palestinians in what was being described as a crackdown on Islamic militants.

At the same time, the government loosened a ban that has kept thousands of Palestinian workers from crossing into Israel.

At a checkpoint

Military censors withheld the exact number of Palestinians arrested, as well as their names. Israel's Channel 1 television reported that 40 were arrested just north of the West Bank city of Nablus.

The arrests come in the wake of two recent suicide bombings in Jerusalem that killed 25 people, including the five attackers. Israel has demanded that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat crack down on Islamic groups, who have claimed responsibility for those attacks.

The bombings also had prompted Israel to ban travel by Palestinians into Israel. But Sunday, the government announced that 4,000 Palestinian construction workers would be allowed to enter Israel to work.

Last week, 10,000 Palestinians were allowed entry.

Arab leaders praise Albright

In their final statement issued at the conclusion of a three-day meeting, the Arab League foreign ministers urged Israel to accept the principle of trading land for peace. They also endorsed efforts by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who recently visited the area, to try to jump-start the peace process.

"There was a consensus to cooperate with the American policies which she expressed," the statement said.

U.S. Secretary of State 
Madeleine Albright

The final statement did not mention the Qatar conference. But Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said there was agreement that the meeting would not proceed without some movement in the peace talks. Leaders from Syria, Egypt and Qatar echoed that sentiment.

Deal with settlers condemned

The Arab foreign ministers also condemned the recent deal the Israeli government reached with a group of renegade Jewish settlers who had set up housekeeping in the predominantly Arab Ras al-Amud neighborhood in Jerusalem.

The settlers agreed to leave, but only after the Netanyahu government allowed a contingent of seminary students to stay as security guards.

Israeli settlement in Jerusalem

Palestinians have expressed outrage at such a Jewish outpost in the heart of historically Arab east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope one day will be the capital of their own state.

On Sunday, there were scuffles between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police outside the buildings where the Jewish students are living, but there was no serious violence.

Palestinian leaders have been trying to encourage restraint on the streets, fearing violence might divert attention from Israeli settlement activity.

Correspondents Jerrold Kessel and James Martone and Reuters contributed to this report.

Struggle For Peace
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