- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2010

SIRTE, Libya (AP) | Arab leaders on Sunday renewed their support for Middle East peace efforts, rejecting pressure from Syria and Libya on the Palestinians to abandon talks with Israel and restart attacks on the Jewish state.

The Arab League’s backing for the land for peace initiative with Israel comes despite its firm opposition to Israeli plans for new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, land Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.

“The Arab peace initiative is a serious move. If we withdraw it, what will be the Arab stance after that?” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters after the summit’s closing session.

But the calls from Damascus, Syria, and Tripoli, Libya, to quit peace efforts - which were later echoed by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas - reflected the depth of frustration and anger over the stalled peace process.

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw from a U.S.-supported peace strategy and take up arms against Israel, according to two delegates who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

They said Mr. Assad also urged Arab countries to halt any contacts with Israel, though only Egypt and Jordan are technically at peace with the Jewish state.

“The price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace,” one delegate quoted Mr. Assad as telling Mr. Abbas.

Summit host Moammar Gadhafi of Libya warned that his nation will withdraw support for the peace initiative launched at a 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut.

Late Sunday, Hamas criticized the summit’s support for peace negotiations. The group, whose leader resides in Syria, urged Arabs instead to “try a new strategy” and unite behind resistance groups, sever diplomatic ties with Israel and support boycott campaigns of the Jewish state.

“The summit’s persistence in keeping negotiations as a strategic option, without considering alternative ways, the foremost of which is resistance, will only add to the arrogance of the Zionist occupation,” the group said in a statement issued in Damascus.

The group said it still expects Arab leaders to reconsider their political options.

Senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh swiftly dismissed the pressure.

“Let us be realistic. We will not follow those who have special agendas,” he told Al-Jazeera television. “We are ready for any Arab option. If they want to go to war, let them declare that and mobilize their armies and their people, and we will follow suit.”

But the wrangling reflects deep division among Arabs over how to deal with the stalled Middle East talks. Arabs blame the sides’ failure to return to the negotiating table on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The summit registered a higher than usual number of no-shows from Arab leaders. Eight heads of state stayed away, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

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