Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques discusses with Jordan monarch Palestinian issue developments, peace march, means to settle problems without foreign interference

King Abdullah sends two messages to Egypt’s President Mubarak, Syria’s President Assad

President Mubarak takes up with Jordan king, Palestinian president peace efforts

Prince Saud Al-Faisal: It is high time serious Arab efforts are exerted

Prince Saud says asked Meshaal where Hamad stands regarding Palestinian issue

Egyptian border guard killed, injuries reported in riots over entry of Lifeline 3 convoy into Gaza Strip

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and King Abdullah II ibn Alhosain of Jordan co-chaired a session of talks held between the two sides at the palace of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

During the meeting, they discussed the situations at the Arab arena, particularly the developments of the Palestinian cause and the exerted efforts to achieve peace in the region as well as the efforts of Arab States to promote relations among them and resolve their causes without any intervention of non-Arab parties.

The talks also dealt with the latest developments at the Islamic and international arenas and the position of Saudi Arabia and Jordan towards them, in addition to prospects for cooperation between the two countries and ways of enhancing them in all fields to serve the interests of both countries and their peoples.

The talks were attended by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh region; Prince Saud Alfaisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs and a number of other senior Saudi and Jordanian officials.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz held in Riyadh on Tuesday a dinner for King Abdullah II of Jordan and the accompanying delegation.

The banquet was attended by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, a number of other princes and senior officials.

King Abdullah has sent a message to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

The message was delivered by Prince Saud Al Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister during a meeting with the Egyptian President.

The meeting was attended by Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Saudi Ambassador to Egypt Hisham Nazir.

King Abdullah also sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad concerning current regional affairs.

The message was conveyed by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister, during an audience with the Syrian president.

Prince Saud Al-Faisal and his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmad Abul-Gheit reaffirmed the conformity of views of Saudi Arabia and Egypt on various Arab region developments.

They made the remarks during their joint press conference following a meeting between Prince Saud and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. During the meeting, Prince Saud Al-Faisal handed a message from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to the president.

During the press conference, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said that Arab Initiative is still there and ready to be implemented, and that he thinks it is capable of ending the conflict between the Palestinian and Israeli sides and in their interest.

Al-Faisal described Arab Initiative as a whole package, therefore it cannot be changed, by any means, it is balanced and fully integrated, he said. Al-Faisal added that, however, there is no new development concerning it, up to now, and expressed hope to adopt it by all Middle East peace process concerned parties, before it is too late.

Replying to a question whether he received approval of the Head of Political Bureau of Hamas, Khalid Meshaal, when he recently met him, on signing the Egyptian Paper to reconcile Palestinian factions, Al-Faisal said that they did not tackled this issue, in fact, during that meeting because the whole dossier of Palestinian reconciliation is in the hand of our Egyptian brothers, However, he explained that he has asked Meshaal to make clear the standpoint of Hamas on the Palestinian cause, and whether it considers it as an Arab cause or another side's cause, and if it is working for unifying Palestinian factions to take the side of a particular state, why should it not work to unify the Palestinian factions to stand against Israel concerning the Palestinian cause.

Prince Saud Alfaisal said that Meshaal has responded to this publicly asserting the Arab nature of the Hamas Movement and the Palestinian cause and this is what the Saudi side was seeking from meeting Khalid Meshaal.

On his visit to Damascus, Al-Faisal said the regional situation is exposed to several volatilities nowadays, thus it is necessary particularly in such a case to increase Inter-Arab contacts, pointing out that his visit to Damascus came in line with that reason only, and not for any other reason.

Highlighting the Kingdom stance against aggressions of infiltrators, Al-Faisal asserted that the Kingdom will defend its soil and support Yemeni government to defend its soil, its territorial integrity, and its people unity, stressing that the Kingdom is standing whole heartedly with Yemen, in this regard.

On Saudi stance towards infiltrators, Al-Faisal said it is well known that we are defending our soil, and we will never take a chance in this respect, he concluded.

Meanwhile, Prince Al-Faisal explained in Damascus that the message he conveyed from King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad concerns the current regional situation and ways to reinforce consultation and work within Arab framework to solve regional problems.

In a press statement followed an audience with Syrian President Al-Assad, Al-Faisal said that his talks in Damascus tackled several issues including the peace process and hurdles being put by Israel in its way, pointing out that an agreement has been reached on the necessity of unifying the Arab ranks and working towards achieving our interests.

Answering a question on Iraq, Al-Faisal said that Syria and the Kingdom hope the upcoming elections will lead to solving basic problems Iraq is exposed to.

Leaders of Jordan and Egypt on Monday called on Israel to stop all unilateral actions, including the building of settlements in East Jerusalem and other areas of the West Bank, according to a joint communiqué.

Jordan's King Abdullah made a whirlwind visit to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, where he met with President Hosni Mubarak to review the latest regional and international efforts aimed at re-launching "serious and effective" negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of the two-state solution.

"The two leaders stressed the need for Israel to stop all unilateral measures, particularly the construction of settlements and other moves that jeopardize the identity of Jerusalem and holy places there," the statement said.

Abdullah and Mubarak contended that any solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict "should address all Arab rights particularly the Palestinian people's right to freedom and an independent state, and guarantee security and regional stability in accordance with the Arab peace initiative".

The Arab peace plan offers Israel recognition by all Arab states if it quits all Arab territories it occupied during the 1967 Middle East war, including East Jerusalem.

Mubarak also briefed the Jordanian head of state on the outcome of his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Egypt last week, the communiqué said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met on Monday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for talks on re-launching peace negotiations with Israel, the official MENA news agency reported.

The two met at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and discussed "efforts to revive the peace process... efforts to end settlement activity, lifting the blockade on the Palestinian people and achieving reconciliation between Palestinian factions," MENA said.

Abbas arrived on Sunday and met with Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman before heading to Sharm el-Sheikh. He will later travel to Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey.

His visit to Egypt comes almost a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Mubarak in Cairo about the stalled peace process and as diplomats said Washington was drafting letters of guarantee for the peace talks.

According to Israel's Maariv newspaper, Washington is pushing a plan to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that foresees reaching a final deal in two years.

Under the plan, the Israelis and Palestinians will immediately start final status talks that were suspended during the Gaza war a year ago and Mubarak would press Abbas to agree to the deal, Maariv said.

US President Barack Obama has repeatedly called on the two sides to resume peace talks, but the Palestinians have demanded Israel first freeze all settlement activity and commit to a framework for the talks, to include that the borders of a future Palestinian state encompass all of their land Israel occupied in 1967.

The Palestinians have insisted that mostly Arab east Jerusalem -- occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community -- be the capital of their future state.

Abbas suspended peace talks with Israel after it entered a 22-day war with Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and left swathes of Gaza devastated. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

Hamas's takeover of Gaza in 2007, which shrank Abbas's powerbase to the West Bank, left a deep rift between Palestinians that have also hampered peace talks with Israel. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Suleiman are meanwhile planning to visit Washington on January 8 for talks with officials there.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Turkey called on Iran Saturday to avoid escalating its standoff with the international community over its nuclear program. They called for a solution that would allow Tehran and other nations in the Middle East to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

“It is our strong desire that the Middle East should remain free from weapons of mass destruction,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Al-Faisal while addressing a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

At the beginning of the news conference, Prince Saud and Davutoglu called on Israel to halt Jewish settlements in order to create an environment conducive to peace talks. The two ministers also spoke about a range of bilateral, regional and international issues including Saudi-Turkish relations, the volatile situation in Iraq, the incursion of rebels into Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

In reply to a question about the repatriation of Osama Bin Laden’s daughter to Saudi Arabia from Iran, Prince Saud said that the Kingdom was holding talks with Tehran aimed at repatriating 17-year-old Iman Bin Laden, who fled from a family compound near Tehran to the Saudi Embassy in the hope of leaving Iran. Prince Saud, however, advised journalists “not to make this issue a political one.”

He declined to give more details about negotiations concerning Iman, saying it could complicate the issue. “The case of her repatriation is a humanitarian issue and we are negotiating with the Iranian government,” he said.

Referring to the need to roll back the Iranian nuclear program, Prince Saud said: “Iran has the right to acquire nuclear power for peaceful purposes.”

Saudi Arabia and Turkey are there to help Tehran to defuse the crisis with the help of dialogue and diplomacy, said the Turkish Minister. Riyadh and Ankara want all countries in the region, including Israel, to abide by the provisions of international agreements concerning nuclear programs, Davutoglu added.

Referring to the stalled Middle East peace process, Prince Saud called on Israel to freeze all settlements. “The ongoing Israeli settlements and the Jewish policies of oppression will eventually doom the peace negotiations to failure,” said Prince Saud. He accused powerful nations of “double standard in dealing with Israel.”

He called on the international community, especially the United States, to ensure full Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.

Davutoglu also pledged full support for any peace initiative and said Turkey was also ready to mediate talks between Israel and Syria.

“If we see a serious approach, we will do whatever is possible for relations to improve between Syria and Israel,” Davutoglu said.

Referring to the situation near the Saudi-Yemeni border, Prince Saud said conditions had deteriorated in northern Yemen where fighting between government troops and rebels has been going on for some time.

He pledged to support the territorial integrity of Yemen. A large number of infrastructure projects are being executed in Yemen with the help of Gulf states which are committed to make Yemen a prosperous neighbor, he added. Concerning Afghanistan, the two foreign ministers voiced identical views and called for reconciliation among warring factions in order to restore peace in the war-torn country. On Iraq, Prince Saud and Davutoglu were hopeful that normalcy would return there soon.

The Turkish minister said parliamentary elections on time would help eradicate terrorism from Iraq where some groups have been trying to hinder all peace efforts.

Prince Al-Faisal had received in Riyadh Hamas Political Bureau Chief and the Secretary General of Jihad Movement in Palestine Khalid Meshaal.

During the meeting, they discussed issues of common interest as well as the developments on Arab and Palestinian affairs. The meeting was attended by a number of officials. In a press conference following the meeting, Prince Saud Al-Faisal said that the aim of the meeting with Khalid Meshaal is to remove doubts of roles being played in the region, adding that the Palestinian cause is of concern to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Arab nation.

On his part, Meshaal congratulated Prince Saud Al-Faisal on the safe return of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General.

He also said that the aim of his visit is to discuss the developments at the Palestinian arena with the Kingdom's leadership.

The Hamas Political Bureau Chief stressed that he is against everything that affects the security of Arab countries, denying news reports on a relationship between Hamas and 'Houthis'.

'We requested to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which has a long history of supporting the Palestinian cause,' Meshaal said.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lashed out at the Qatari media during his interface with the editors-in-chief of Qatari newspapers in Doha on Tuesday and said they were biased towards Hamas.

Abbas, who is from Fatah which is the rival political outfit of Hamas in Palestine, even criticized the noted Islamic cleric, Doha-based Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi, for issuing an edict (fatwa) against him based on what he said were rumors.

Citing examples of the alleged media bias towards Hamas, the Palestinian President said the Qatari media was highly critical of him for his alleged role in stalling a debate in the United Nations General Assembly on Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

The row was stoked sometime ago. Abbas said the entire issue of the UN debate snowballed into a big controversy and the Qatari media kept the row alive for close to 10 days without verifying facts.

“It was also mentioned by the media here that my children had equity stake in a local (Palestinian) telecommunication company, while the fact is that the owners of this company are Sheikh Mohamed bin Suhaim bin Hamad Al Thani and Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad bin Saud Al Thani,” Abbas told the editors-in-chief.

Talking of Dr Qaradawi, he said he issued a fatwa when the controversy was raging that “I be publicly stoned in Makkah for stalling the UN debate.”

According to Abbas, Islam does not allow edicts to be issued based on rumors. A mufti issuing a fatwa has to first verify the news pertaining to which an edict is being issued, he said. But after it was proved that there was no vestige of truth in the accusations about his stopping the UN debate, Dr Qaradawi did not withdraw the fatwa, claimed Abbas.

“The fatwa still holds valid and Dr Qaradawi still wants me to be publicly stoned in Makkah,” said the Palestinian President.

Asked if he as referring to Aljazeera and unofficial media or the official media in Qatar, he quipped: “This holds true of all the free media in Qatar.”

On the other hand, Israel has approved construction of four new apartment buildings in disputed east Jerusalem, officials said Tuesday, fueling tensions with the Palestinians at a time when the U.S. is laboring to get peace talks moving again. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for a future capital and demand all construction there stop before negotiations resume.

The 24-unit project is being developed in an Arab neighborhood by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jew who has generously funded Jewish settlers determined to cement Israel's hold on contested areas of the holy city.

Jerusalem is the most explosive issue between Israel and the Palestinians, and the new buildings would be located in one of its most volatile sites, just outside the walled Old City with its Christian, Muslim and Jewish shrines.

Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, confirmed that Jerusalem's local planning committee approved the project on Monday, clearing the way for construction to begin.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the move "in the strongest possible terms." He said if Israel wants to resume peace talks, "they must announce a total cessation of settlement activities" in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israel committed to a full settlement freeze in 2003 under an internationally backed peace plan.

In late November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that construction in Jewish West Bank settlements would slow down for 10 months, but said building in east Jerusalem would proceed without restrictions.

An official in Netanyahu's office said the decision to build in east Jerusalem was made by municipal authorities and did not require involvement by the prime minister. He could not be identified under civil service regulations.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel does not consider construction in east Jerusalem to be settlement activity because it annexed the area immediately after its capture. In November, it announced plans to build hundreds of new homes in Gilo, a sprawling Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

The international community, like the Palestinians, does not recognize the annexation and views the Jewish neighborhoods built in east Jerusalem as settlements. Some 180,000 Jews live in those neighborhoods, alongside an estimated 250,000 Palestinians.

The latest project is potentially even more contentious because it is not in any of the established Jewish neighborhoods.

Instead, it is located in the heart of a predominantly Arab area of the city.

The Obama administration's special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, is due in the region in the next few days to try to break the negotiations logjam.

Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have both met in recent days with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in an effort to prod things along. But so far, there has been no sign that the two sides are moving any closer.

The Palestinians have not relaxed their demand for a complete settlement freeze in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. They also insist that talks resume where they left off under Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who proposed sharing Jerusalem and ceding wide swaths of the West Bank to a future Palestinian state.

Israel says it has no preconditions for talks and is willing to immediately discuss all outstanding issues. It has roundly criticized the Palestinians for not returning to the negotiating table.

But Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Israel does not intend to share Jerusalem and historically has opposed giving up all the West Bank land the Palestinians claim. The Palestinians say these positions leave little for the two sides to discuss.

Gunfire broke out Wednesday during a Palestinian protest over Egypt's blockade of the Gaza Strip, leaving an Egyptian border guard dead and a dozen Palestinians injured.

The riot along the border came a day after several hundred international activists clashed with police in the Egyptian port city of El-Arish when they were told that a portion of their aid convoy would be allowed to enter Gaza only through Israel.

In response, the Hamas movement that rules Gaza called on supporters to demonstrate Wednesday against both Egypt's interference with the aid convoy and its construction of an underground barrier designed to block tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons into the coastal strip.

"It was a peaceful protest against the wall and to let the lifeline convoy enter Gaza," said Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official.

Several hundred protesters gathered in the city of Rafah began throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Egyptian security forces across the border, who responded with gunfire, witnesses said. In the midst of the chaos, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed the Egyptian guard, officials said.

By late Wednesday, portions of the humanitarian convoy had begun entering Gaza, which is squeezed between Egypt and Israel. But the violence has heightened tensions between the Egyptian government and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized control of the strip in 2007.

The tunnels that the Egyptians are seeking to block have been a key transit route for Gaza since a joint blockade by Israel and Egypt virtually sealed its borders. The countries say they are attempting to isolate and pressure Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and is suspected of trying to foment dissent in Egypt.

The primary victims, however, are the 1.5 million Gaza inhabitants, who are rarely allowed to leave and are suffering from shortages of construction materials, fuel and other goods.

Because of a lack of cement and steel, thousands of Palestinian families have been unable to rebuild homes destroyed in the three-week military offensive by Israel a year ago. The campaign, which was launched in response to repeated Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, killed nearly 1,400 Palestinians.

The latest clashes began Tuesday when Egyptian authorities decided to route some of the Viva Palestina aid convoy, made up of more than 500 volunteers and nearly 200 trucks carrying food and medical supplies, to an Israeli checkpoint into Gaza.

"It is unacceptable and we have refused this," said George Galloway, a British lawmaker and leader of the convoy. "It is completely unconscionable that 25% of our convoy should go to Israel and never arrive in Gaza. Because nothing that ever goes to Israel ever arrives in Gaza."

The activists tried to break through a security gate, triggering a melee Tuesday that Egyptian police put down with water cannons.

Dozens of people were injured on both sides and seven were arrested.

After Wednesday's riot at the border, Hamas leaders expressed regret for the day's violence and called upon both sides to exercise restraint.

One Palestinian protester, who identified himself only as Adnan, 28, said Hamas security officers tried to break up the demonstration when it turned violent, but protesters refused to disperse.

"Egypt should open the borders and let the people breathe," he said.

"We are surrounded by the Israelis, and the Arabs are watching us too."