Saudi king slams Iran, announces $200m for Palestinians at 'Jerusalem' summit

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia: Arab leaders pose for a family picture during the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center yesterday. — AFP

DHAHRAN: The sky of our Arab nation is overcast, while joint action is stagnant if not paralyzed at times, HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah said yesterday at the beginning of his speech during the opening session of the 29th Arab Summit in Dhahran. The Amir offered condolences to the Algerian people over a military plane crash near Boufarik Airport that killed and wounded hundreds, asking Almighty Allah to bestow mercy upon those who were killed and speedy recovery to those wounded.

Commenting on the current Arab state of affairs, HH the Amir said: "Before such hurtful facts, the convening of this summit under the chairmanship of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is seen as a fresh start that would revive hopes of the people of this nation, as well as an outlet for the state of frustration they are living. Therefore, it is demanded from us to double efforts in order to solve our differences; a challengethat is weakening us and giving leverage to those who wish us harm."

The Amir also called for addressing deficiencies marring Arab joint action through invigorating recommendations and resolutions. "Through its non-permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council, my country - Kuwait - will relentlessly work to defend Arab causes, as well as contribute in reactivating the role of the Council in lessening impacts of such inactivity. You might have followed such efforts, which led to the unanimous adoption of resolution 2401 regarding recent developments in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, which unfortunately was hindered due to recent escalations.

"The now eight-year-long conflict in Syria, which led to a humanitarian crisis, makes hearts bleed, as it reveals the unfortunate incapacity and double-standardness of the international community in dealing with this issue. Such community condemns, and might take some measures, for a sporadic explosion here or there. However, at the same time, it stands helpless to denounce or take action in favor of hundreds of thousands of killed, injured and displaced people in Syria. But Kuwait has not, and will not, hesitate to fulfill its humanitarian obligations with regards to helping the brotherly Syrian people in its plight"

On the latest developments on the ground, the Amir said: "We have been following - with utmost concern - the latest air strikes, which came as a deterrent for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. We reiterate that these developments, once again, took place because of the United Nations Security Council's inability to reach a political solution for the conflict in Syria. We are looking forward for the Council to overcome differences among its members and show unity so as to shoulder its historic responsibility in preserving international peace and stability."

On Iraq, HH the Amir congratulated the Iraqi people on liberating all of their territories from the so-called Islamic State, noting that Kuwait organized a successful international conference for rebuilding Iraq. He expressed hope that parliamentary elections in Iraq, due next month, would be successful and represent various segments of the Iraqi people. The Amir condemned recurring missile attacks on Saudi Arabia from Yemen, praising the role of the states participating in the coalition for restoring legitimacy to Yemen, namely their role in tackling difficult humanitarian conditions in the troubled country.

HH the Amir expressed deep distress at Washington's decision to transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in violation of international legitimacy resolutions. "I call from this platform upon the US administration to rescind its decision and play its role as sponsor of this (peace) process," he said. The Security Council, he noted, should have taken action towards the recent killing of scores of Palestinians. As to Libya, he hoped conciliation efforts would restore security to this nation. On terrorism, HH Sheikh Sabah called for doubling efforts to wipe it out. Regarding Iran, he urged Tehran to abide by international laws, good neighborliness principles and abstain from meddling in regional states' affairs.

Meanwhile, Saudi King Salman slammed Iran's "blatant interference" in regional affairs and criticized the US over Jerusalem. The monarch dubbed the Arab League meeting the "Jerusalem summit" as he took aim at Washington's decision to transfer its embassy in Israel to the holy city. Seventeen heads of state from across the Arab world - minus Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad - gathered in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran for the 29th Arab League summit, which this year comes as world powers face off over Syria and tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran.

The meeting opened only 24 hours after the barrage of strikes launched by the US, Britain and France hit targets they said were linked to chemical weapons development in Syria, which was suspended from the league seven years ago. But King Salman avoided any mention of Syria in his address, as a seat marked "Syrian Arab Republic" sat empty in the hall. Instead the king focused on rivalries with long-time foe Iran - only 160 km across the Gulf from Dhahran. "We renew our strong condemnation of Iran's terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries," the king said.

And despite being a stalwart ally of the United States, the ruler also criticized US President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and shift the US embassy there. "We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem," Salman said. "East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories." The king said he had named this year's meeting "the Jerusalem summit so that the entire world knows Palestine and its people remain at the heart of Arab concerns".

Arab ministers at a preliminary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday focused heavily on blocking the embassy move, unanimously condemning Trump's decision. King Salman yesterday announced a $150 million donation for the maintenance of Islamic heritage in East Jerusalem and $50 million for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Earlier this month, the monarch reiterated the kingdom's "steadfast stance on the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital". His comments came just days after his son, powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, told reporters during a US tour that Israel also had a "right" to its own state. The remark suggested increasing rapprochement with Israel, which like Riyadh, sees Tehran as its archrival.

The summit also comes with Saudi Arabia and Qatar locked in a months-long diplomatic standoff, with Riyadh accusing Doha of supporting Islamist extremists and being too close to Iran. Tensions have eased slightly in recent months but Qatar still only sent its representative to the Arab League to the Dhahran summit. Among the leaders in attendance was Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir, who walked the red carpet and was greeted by King Salman. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of genocide and two counts of war crimes.

Summits of the Arab League, established in 1945, rarely result in action. The last time the bloc made a concrete move was in 2011, when it suspended Syria's membership over the Assad regime's role in the war. Syria's war, the most complex of the region's conflicts, is the main point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies, who mainly back Sunni rebels, against regime backer Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. Gulf Arab states have made massive donations to Syria but have not officially offered asylum to Syrians. - Agencies