Arab summit in Tunisia to discuss Golan, Jerusalem
29 Mar 2019
Arab foreign ministers attend a preparatory meeting ahead of the Arab summit in Tunis, Tunisia, on Friday. Reuters
TUNIS: Tunisia will co-ordinate with fellow Arab countries to contain any fall-out from the U.S. decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui said on Friday.
He was speaking to a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on the eve of the annual Arab League summit, hosted this year by Tunisia and likely to focus on Washington’s Golan decision and its earlier move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“We will work with fellow Arab countries and the international community to contain the expected repercussions of this decision in the various regional and international forums,” Jhinaoui told the meeting in Tunis.
He did not elaborate, but Arab countries want Washington to retract its decision and stop other countries following suit.
Arab states, which consider the Golan Heights captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war as occupied Syrian land, have condemned last week’s decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise the plateau as Israeli territory.
Trump also angered Arabs by recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv last year.
But a person familiar with the matter said Washington’s Golan and occupied Jerusalem decisions did not appear to have blocked behind-the-scenes security contacts developed in recent years between Israel and the United States’ Gulf Arab allies over their common enemy, Iran.
Tunisia currently holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League and is vying for one of the rotating non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed both in moves not recognized internationally.
Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf told the gathering that Saudi Arabia considered the Palestinians’ quest for statehood in Israeli-occupied territory — peace talks have been stalled for five years — to be the central cause for all Arabs.
But Assaf singled out what he described as the Iranian threat as the main challenge facing Arabs, calling for action to confront Tehran.
“One of the most dangerous forms of terrorism and extremism is what Iran practices through its blatant interference in Arab affairs, and its militias...the Revolutionary Guards in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, which requires cooperation from us to confront it,” he said.
Iran has denied posing any such threats.
Assaf said Arabs needed to work to stop Iran’s ballistic missile programme, saying the Islamic Republic was supplying Yemen’s Houthi movement with rockets to attack Saudi cities.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition that intervened in 2015 in Yemen’s war against the Houthis to restore the internationally recognised government ousted from power.
Assaf also voiced Saudi support for Syria’s territorial integrity and a political solution to its war based on dialogue between the opposition and government, but said a unified Syrian opposition should emerge before the start of any dialogue.
Syria’s membership of the Arab League had been suspended since the country descended into violence in 2011 after Arab Spring protests.
President Bashar Al Assad’s government, backed by Russia and Iran, has regained control over most of the country after years of fighting that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Five sources told Reuters last month that the United States has been lobbying Gulf states to hold off restoring ties with Syria.
Meanwhile, in an unrealted development a UN official charged with investigating alleged violations of a UN arms embargo on Libya, has been detained in neighbouring Tunisia on suspicion of spying, Tunisian and UN officials said on Friday. Moncef Kartas, a member of the panel of experts of the Libya sanctions committee, was arrested on his arrival in Tunis on Tuesday, a UN spokesman told reporters.
“We are in contact with the Tunisian authorities to know why he has been held for questioning,” a UN statement said, adding that as a UN expert Kartas was entitled to diplomatic immunity.
Tunisia website universnews said Kartas had dual Tunisian and German nationality.
Confirmation of his arrest comes just a day before UN chief Antonio Guterres is due to attend an Arab summit in Tunis with the conflict in Libya to be high on the agenda.