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Arab League Agrees On Gaza Aid, Economic Integration

Arab leaders at the first Arab Economic Summit (AES) in Kuwait Tuesday reached an agreement to help rebuild the war-devastated Gaza Strip as well as promote economic and social development, amid rifts exposed by the three-week Israeli pummeling of the Palestinian enclave, media reports said.

The Gaza conflict dominated the AES member-states to set aside their political differences,and focus on Arab development.

Winding up the economic summit, leaders of the 22-member Arab League (AL)approved a declaration calling for accelerated steps towards the economic integration in the Arab world: to launch a customs union next year, to speed up the construction of a pan-Arab power grid and to start a railroad network project.

According to the declaration read out by AL Secretary-General Amr Moussa, the Arab leaders pledged continuing support for national financial institutions to contribute to the stability of global financial markets and to coordinate policies to get out of the present financial crisis.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah said last week that Arab countries had lost $2.5 trillion due to the continuing global financial turmoil.

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah announced the establishment of a $ two-billion Arab fund to finance small and medium-sized enterprises and private sector projects, adding that Kuwait itself will contribute $500 million.

The Arab leaders called for continuing humanitarian assistance to the 1.5 million Gazans suffering from the just-concluded punishing Israeli offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians. They vowed to provide financial and technical support for rebuilding the infrastructure and improve the living standards of Palestinians in the besieged area.

However, the final declaration stopped short of mentioning a widely-expected $ 2-billion Arab fund for the post-war reconstruction of the Palestinian coastal territory.

Inaugurating the summit Monday, Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz announced his country's contribution of $1 billion to the fund, and called on fellow-Arab leaders to set aside internal differences in the wake of the Israeli onslaught.

The deep rifts over how to address the Gaza crisis were highlighted when Egypt and Saudi Arabia, close allies of the U.S., stayed away from an emergency summit called by Doha.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the foreign ministers were "regrettably" unable to reach a unified stance on Gaza during a closed-door session on the sidelines of the summit due to shortage of time "and the uncompromising stances taken by some countries."

Some countries needed to make "compromises," he said, adding that efforts to reconcile would continue after the high-level Kuwaiti economic summit, which attracted 17 heads of state, in addition to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

by RTT Staff Writer

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