Saudi Arabia’s speech before Sirte Arab summit

Israel continues its flagrant defiance

Pressures on Ehud Barak to topple Netanyahu govt.

Gates: Absence of Mideast peace poses threats to U.S. interests

Representatives of churches slam Israel’s restrictions

Israel’s ambassadors say their entity’s stature down worldwide

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stressed keenness on what would make a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue, condemning the continued Israeli intransigence and continuing attempts to thwart the efforts of peace based on the Arab peace initiative.

It also confirmed its absolute rejection of Israeli attempts to Judaize Al-Quds and prejudice to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, and Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem.

Saudi Arabia also called for concerted efforts to combat terrorism and to address the risks of diversion of intellectual and religious intolerance as well as to warn from the growing prospects of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and called for a common policy to address the political, economic and cultural challenges facing the Arab nation.

This came in a speech delivered by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs and leader of his country's delegation to the Arab summit in Libya, concluded Sunday in the city of Sirte, Libya.

Addressing the summit's president, Prince Al-Faisal said 'following the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz instructions, honoring me, on his behalf, to head the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the 22nd session of the Council of the Arab League at the summit level, I am glad to convey his personal greetings to and appreciation of your Excellencies, and the people of Libya with his sincere wishes of success of this summit under your prudent presidency and to extend on behalf of the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia our sincere thanks to the warm welcome and generous hospitality in a country we owe our appreciation and respect'.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal also said that he lauds, on behalf of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the great efforts and prudent leadership of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar and Chairman of the Arab summit in its previous session, adding that despite the circumstances that prevented the participation in person of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in this summit, but that does not affect his continuing keenness on the contribution with every possible and available effort to raise the level of joint Arab action, activate and push it in the direction that achieves the aspirations and hopes of the glorious Arab nation.

'Every time the Arab leaders hold their usual annual meeting at this time, we'd all have the sense of hope mixed with anticipation about what results could get out of such meeting at its high level including the decisions that could put us on the road to solve our issues and our problems, especially the chronic ones such as the Palestinian issue, which remained and still remains the focus of our meetings, conferences throughout the past decades', Prince Saud Al-Faisal said.

He pointed out that it is hurtful to see that the first issue of the Arabs with its complications and complexities are still at a standstill in terms of continuation of injustice and abuse against the Palestinian people, depriving them from practicing the most simplest of their basic human and political rights, including their legitimate right to establish their own viable independent State.

In the time the Arabs manifested their seriousness and their genuine willingness to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue and the entire Arab - Israeli conflict through the Arab peace initiative, Israel continues its flagrant challenges of the international legitimacy resolutions, puts obstacles and pursues policies that would thwart any serious attempt to achieve the desired goal of peace.

'In all cases and under all circumstances, the issue of Al-Quds city and attempts to Judaize it and alter its identity, history and heritage should be the bulk of our attention, with a clear Arab movement has to be launched by our summit to address the campaign of Judaization and desecration of the Arab and Islamic heritage in the city of Al-Quds', Prince Saud Al-Faisl stressed.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs also added that needless to say that the future of the Palestinian cause, the fate of Al-Quds and the status of historical heritage in the occupied territories remains closely linked to the Palestinians, leadership and factions, about how they could reach a minimum consensus among themselves, making the Arab solidarity and the unity of Palestinian ranks as absolutely necessary and essential requirement as could not be underestimated.

Addressing the attendees, Al-Faisal pointed out to what he termed as the busy agenda relevant to the present and the future of the Arab nation at the security, political, economic, social, and cultural levels.

He made clear that most of these issues were already debated at previous summits and all have focused on activating the joint Arab action, which would not be existing in the absence of real and serious Arab solidarity in tackling and addressing these issues with rational way that is consistent with the spirit of era and the requirements of the current stage.

At the security level, Prince Saud Al-Faisl said that the challenge of terrorism and the risk of thinking deviation and ideological fanaticism need 'our joint and coordinated action' to combat the risks and secretions of these trends and their negative impacts on the future generations.

'There is the challenge of the growing likelihood of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, which will not turn without the issuance of a resolution from the Security Council announcing this sensitive part of the world free of nuclear weapons conditioned to encompass all countries in the region including Israel with preserving the right of all States to use the nuclear energy for legitimate peaceful purposes', he added.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal went on to iterate that the political, economic and cultural challenges facing the Arab nation are of the size and quality that can not be dealt with and overcome without a joint political will and a solid and creative vision enabling us to grasp the essence of these problems and their updates, needing a minimum of solidarity and cooperation to show that we are able to take charge of matters affecting the destiny of us.

He made clear that if the goal is to reach Arab Union resembling the European Union, then it is indispensable for initiating the necessary steps to reach the level of economic integration, which requires the rapid adoption of the following: First: the full implementation of the Greater Arab commercial area and removal of the remainder of any administrative and other obstacles.

Second: the serious work to form the customs union as decided in the Kuwait Economic, Development and Social summit. Third: the implementation of projects that link 'our economy', especially in the sectors of electricity, railways and roads which were already adopted with implementation partly going on.

Prince Al-Faisal confirmed that immediately after the end of the study for the restructuring and the completion of the necessary steps to do so, then 'we can move to the next stage in the process of unification of the Arab economy', conditioning that the Economic and Social Council follows up the necessary steps leading to it.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs concluded that concerning the ideas being put forward to develop the mechanism of political action, the matter could be discussed based on the observations received from the Arab countries, regardless of the mechanism that would be agreed upon to accomplish what is required.

Meanwhile, Israel vowed policy on Jerusalem would not change as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed with his security cabinet on Friday US demands for peace-promoting concessions.

But even as the meeting was under way, violence broke out on the border with the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. A huge explosion rocked the Israeli side of the border followed by tank fire into Gaza, according to Palestinian witnesses.

The Israeli army did not immediately comment on the incident, saying it was under censorship.

The military wing of Hamas, Ezzedine al-Qassam, said its fighters were involved in Friday's exchange of fire with Israeli troops near Khan Yunis following the explosion on the Israeli side of the border.

Washington has recently stepped up calls for Israel to make concessions in order to promote a restart of the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu returned Thursday from a tense visit to Washington that appeared to deepen a bitter row with the administration of President Barack Obama over the building of Jewish settlements, including in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

"The prime minister's position is that there is no change in Israel's policy on Jerusalem that has been pursued by all governments of Israel for the last 42 years," his office said on Friday.

And the Haaretz newspaper cited him as saying he has no intention of breaking his right-wing coalition to form a more centrist alliance.

He also made it clear he refused to halt settlement construction in east Jerusalem because of his own beliefs and not because of pressure from the right, according to the newspaper.

Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser said it was unlikely there would be quick agreement from Netanyahu seven-strong inner forum.

"I suggest you wait patiently," he told public radio. "If there is a necessity for further discussions they will happen."

"All aspects of the issue will be examined and they will formulate Israel's position according to Israel's interests and in the time needed to do so," he said.

A pro-settler lobby in parliament sent a letter to some of the ministers urging them not to cave in.

"There is no place for further concessions from Israel as a condition to renewing talks. Don't surrender to Palestinian blackmail and international pressure for further concessions," the MPs said in the letter.

Netanyahu's carefully coordinated dressing down in Washington was reportedly accompanied by demands for wide-ranging measures including the extension of a partial settlement halt and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

There was an unusually opaque news blackout throughout the visit, no concrete achievements were reported and the Israeli leader was given none of the trappings usually reserved for visitors such as a photo opportunity and press conference.

Still, both sides tried to put a more positive spin on what has been called the worst crisis between the allies in decades, insisting progress had been made on important issues.

The spat erupted after Netanyahu's government announced it would build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem as US Vice President Joe Biden was in the region earlier this month hoping to promote peace talks.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state, and refuse to resume direct negotiations with Israel without a complete freeze of settlement construction in the occupied territories.

The two sides had agreed earlier this month to hold US-brokered indirect talks but the plan to build 1,600 settler homes in east Jerusalem cast doubts over the agreement.

Direct negotiations have been frozen since Israel launched a devastating 22-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 in a bid to halt rocket attacks from the Palestinian territory ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement.

In Washington on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Israeli-Palestinian tensions are affecting US national security interests in the region.

His comments at a news conference came amid US frustration with Israel over its announced plans to build settler homes in east Jerusalem, which Washington says hurts Mideast peace efforts.

"The lack of progress toward Middle East peace is clearly an issue that's exploited by our adversaries in the region" and "does affect US national security interests in the region," Gates said.

The stalled peace process was a "political challenge," he said.

Gates was asked about recent testimony from General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, who told a Senate hearing this month that the worsening Mideast conflict fed anti-American sentiment in the region "due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel."

The Obama administration has expressed anger over Israel's plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, announced during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.

Top officials have slammed the new construction and the timing of the announcement as insulting and destructive.

But Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said that ties between the US and Israeli armed forces remained strong.

Gates added that concern over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not new, saying "the United States has considered peace in the Middle East to be a national security interest for decades."

On the other hand, in a press conference organized in Jerusalem last week by the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, Representatives of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Latin Patriarchate, Armenian Patriarchate, and Episcopal Church slammed Israel's policies in Occupied East Jerusalem.

President of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, Dimitri Diliani, assured local Christian popular support of the Churches' position rejecting Israeli unilateral colonial settlement building in the Palestinian Territory Occupied in 1967, especially in Jerusalem, in addition to the churches condemnation of violations committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinian People's national, religious and cultural rights.

“As we approach Easter Holidays,” Diliani added, “Israeli discrimination appears clearly when we compare the treatment of Jews celebrating Passover on one hand, and Christians celebrating Easter on the other.”

Diliani said, “if what Israel practices against Christians is practiced anywhere in the world against Jews, that place would be boycotted by the International community at once.” He wondered, 'Are the Holy Land Christians less worthy than other human beings around the world?'

Bishop Aris Shirverian of the Armenian Patriarchate expressed his church's dismay at Israeli policies in Jerusalem, especially during the holidays where thousands of pilgrims are prohibited from visiting the Church of Holy Sepulcher.

Father Dr. Peter Madrous of Latin Patriarchate assured that one who plants injustice will harvest animosity 'and that is the reason for the Israeli paranoia, Israel has planted injustice for years'. Father Madrous stated that Palestinian Christians are peaceful people who have the right to practice their religion without Israeli armed interference.

Rev. Zahi Nasser of the Episcopal Church criticized Israeli claims to Democracy given reality on the ground. He said that Israeli building an Apartheid Wall and violating Palestinian people's rights directly contradict its claims to being a Democracy. Rev. Nasser said that Jerusalem is suffering just like Jesus suffered at the hands of his capturers.

Father Issa Misleh, Spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, said that his church attempted to negotiate with the Israeli security forces over the arrangements for the Holy Week, he added that these negotiations faced major inflexibility by Israeli officials who insisted on imposing their view of what should be taking place on our holiday.

Father Misleh rejected the Israelis excuse of security saying that all throughout history Christians were not prohibited from entering the same facilities under the same circumstances until Israel decided that it should down play any Christian character of the holy city of Jerusalem. He said that Christian and Muslim Palestinians suffer from the same Israeli policies.

Meanwhile, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz said that the Israeli government sources said it is likely that after the current diplomatic crisis and pressure by the United States regarding the Palestinian issue, Israel will soon face an even more serious row with the European Union.

It added, an Israeli government source said this was the concern voiced during a conference call between Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal and seven of Israel's ambassadors in important world capitals.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, and the envoys to the European Union, London, Rome, the UN, Moscow and Paris. Haaretz noted, “the envoys all said that if U.S. pressure continued, the European Union would go even further in condemning Israel and promoting diplomatic initiatives.”

Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday that he saw 'no signs of moderation' among the Palestinians. 'However, we will maintain a restrained framework of debate and continue our talks with the U.S. administration to move the process of dialogue forward,' he said.

Netanyahu said the statements reported in Yedioth Ahronoth that an anonymous associate had called Obama 'a disaster for Israel' were 'improper and that 'we are trying to move the peace process ahead but also to serve our interests, and we continue to narrow the gaps with the administration.'

In a first extensive statement by a senior minister on the diplomatic dispute with the United States, Army Minister Ehud Barak said continued cooperation with America was necessary to protect Israel's security.

However, he added, 'Only we have the exclusive responsibility when it comes to the fate and security of Israel, and only we can determine the matters pertaining to the fate of Israel and the Jewish people. But we must never lose sight of how important these relations are, or the ability to act in harmony and unity with the United States.'

Barak said it was 'crucial to remember that the United States is friendly to Israel in a deep and substantial way.'

Barak underscored the key difference between his positions and those of most of Netanyahu's coalition partners. 'The components of the agreement are clear,' he said.

'I believe that it is our obligation to seek an agreement that sets a clear border within the Land of Israel based on security and demographic considerations, with the Jewish state, the State of Israel, on one side with a solid majority of Jews through the generations, and the demilitarized Palestinian state on the other side with territorial, economic and political viability.”