- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

AIRO — Eight U.S.-allied Arab countries are banding together to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her trip here, with the hope of reviving the deadlocked Arab-Israeli peace process and making headway on other regional issues.

During their meeting today with Miss Rice, the foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt and Jordan are expected to coordinate efforts to buttress the stature of a moderate Palestinian leader and stem Iran’s growing influence.

Miss Rice’s visit comes as Arab countries have in recent weeks halted dealings with the Palestinian militant group Hamas. They want it to join a unity government that supports a 2002 Arab League plan that would offer peace to Israel in exchange for land, and they have even started funneling aid through Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Arab diplomats said.

The goal of Miss Rice’s tour is to promote democracy and discuss threats to stability, such as Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, Miss Rice’s spokesman said. But the Arab ministers’ priority is restarting peace talks.

On Sunday, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II called for Palestinian-Israeli talks to be resumed “as soon as possible.” Their meeting came as the worst internal Palestinian violence since Hamas took power in March shook the Gaza Strip.

Egypt, a longtime mediator among Palestinian factions and between Israel and the Palestinians, appears to be losing patience with Hamas.

Last week, Egypt’s chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, demanded the immediate release of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Militants close to Hamas captured the soldier in June, triggering Israeli military retaliation. Mr. Suleiman has been working on a prisoner swap.

Mr. Suleiman also told the Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal that the militant group should cooperate fully with Mr. Abbas to form a unity government, a step that has been stalled by Hamas’ refusal to join a Cabinet that recognizes Israel.

Jordan, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states expressed similar concerns. The Gulf Cooperation Council comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

On Saturday, the Arab press reported that the intelligence chiefs of Egypt, Jordan and some Gulf nations met last week in Aqaba, Jordan, with their Israeli counterpart. Israeli newspapers reported the meeting was held “to discuss the confrontation with the extreme Middle Eastern states and how to handle the threat of terror.”

Meanwhile, Hamas’ isolation from the Arab fold deepens.

“They are virtually boycotting them. No Arab government talks to them, not even the Arab League,” an official from the regional organization said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

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