Arab heads of state, divided between a radical minority and a moderate majority now led by Egypt, sought compromise Wednesday on the Syrian presence in Lebanon and the Palestinian strategy for Middle East peace.
Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, whose country has just returned to Arab councils after 10 years out in the cold, set the tone for the special summit in an opening speech that avoided the rancor and confrontational language of the past.The summit has presented an opportunity for contacts among old Arab enemies, such as Mubarak and the two sternest critics of Egypt's 1979 peace with Israel, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Mubarak and Gadhafi had a second meeting Wednesday in the villa of Algerian President Chadli Benjedid and arrived in the same car at the royal palace where the summit is taking place.
At the palace door, Gadhafi bantered cordially with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, another past target of radical Libyan rhetoric.
The heads of state, already behind schedule, met briefly at 1:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. MDT) only to decide to come back at 6 p.m. Delegates said the summit would probably end Thursday, a day later than expected.
The crisis in Lebanon, where more than 350 people have been killed since bitter civil war fighting flared again in March, was expected to dominate negotiations after foreign ministers came up with a preliminary compromise on Palestine.
Delegates from Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization said the moderate group favored sending an Arab peacekeeping force to help replace the 40,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon under an Arab League mandate since 1976. "The majority of the leaders are working for this," PLO spokesman Ahmed Abderrahman told Reuters.
Lebanon's Maj.-Gen. Michel Aoun, whose mainly Christian forces are fighting the Syrians and their Moslem and leftist militia allies, says a Syrian withdrawal is essential for any solution.
Another proposal is to upgrade a team of Arab mediators to head-of-state level and make Algeria chairman in place of Kuwait, one Persian Gulf minister added. Six Arab foreign ministers have tried in vain since January to reunite Lebanon, which has had two competing governments since parliament failed to elect a successor to Amin Gemayel in September.
On Palestine, a draft resolution gives broad support to the policies of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who has renounced terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist. It does not, however, explictly endorse the decisions of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinian parliament-in-exile whose meeting last November marked the start of the PLO strategy based on a two-state solution.