Syria lashed out at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's peace strategy on the eve of Tuesday's Arab League summit, setting Damascus on a collision course with moderates led by Egypt.
"We do not accept the methods adopted by Arafat for tackling the Middle East conflict. This method weakens the Arab stand," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said.Recent Palestinian statements have avoided specific mention of what to do with those Arabs made stateless when Israel was created in 1948 and left the question of the likely borders of a Palestinian state for future negotiations.
Arafat, his movement enhanced by a 17-month Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, has foresworn terrorism since last November and recognized Israel's right to exist.
Egypt, the only Arab state officially at peace with Israel, returned to the Arab League Sunday after a 10-year break and plunged straight into the controversy.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel-Maguid said Cairo intended to play a principal role now that it was back in the League. "We want peace," he told Reuters in an interview.
Shara said Syria wanted the summit to call for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories and to guarantee the full national rights of the Palestinian people including the right of return.
Abdel-Maguid told Syria to end its tactics against Arafat's peace plans and to quit Lebanon.
He said Cairo wanted an end to all foreign intervention in Lebanon, a reference to the presence of 40,000 Syrian troops and some Israeli units in the divided country.
He said Syria had every right to express an opinion on the Palestinian issue, but the Palestinians represented by the PLO should have the last word. Shara countered that the Palestinian question was not a purely PLO issue but concerned the whole Arab nation.