Gaza bloodshed alarms West's Arab allies

by Hala Boncompagni Wed May 16, 2:10 PM ET

AMMAN (AFP) - Western allies in the Arab world voiced deep concern about the factional fighting that raged on in the

Gaza Strip on Wednesday, fearful that it risks torpedoing any movement in the peace process.

King Abdullah II of Jordan warned that the ferocious exchanges between loyalists of the

Fatah faction of president Mahmud Abbas and the Hamas movement of prime minister Ismail Haniya will rebound "on the future of Palestine".

In an interview published by the independent Amman daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, the king cautioned both sides that

Israel would be the only beneficiary of the fighting that has left almost 40 dead in just four days.

"I am very worried about the internal Palestinian disputes which serve only Israeli interests and I fear that, if the disputes continue, they will have negative repercussions on progress in the negotiations," Abdullah said.

The king was referring to efforts by Egypt and Jordan -- the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state -- to advance a five-year-old Arab peace initiative revived at an Arab summit in March.

Arab heads of state charged the two governments with holding talks with Israel in a bid to persuade it to accept the plan, which offers Israel full normalisation of relations in return for full withdrawal from Arab lands seized in 1967 and the return of Palestinian refugees.

The king said he would meet Abbas on the sidelines of this weekend's

World Economic Forum in Jordan, after he held talks earlier this week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.

"Time is running out between Israel and the Palestinians," warned Abdullah, who has previously stated that he fears renewed conflict in the region if the Arab peace initiative fails to bear fruit.

"I will meet Abu Mazen (Abbas) ... and, if it is possible, we will bring them together," he said, referring to efforts to arrange a new meeting between the Palestinian president and Olmert.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed during a visit by US Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice in March to hold regular meetings.

In Riyadh, leaders of the six pro-Western Gulf Arab states called on the feuding Palestinian factions to return to a power-sharing deal hammered out under Saudi sponsorship in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in February.

After a consultative meeting of their Gulf Cooperation Council on Tuesday, the six governments -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- condemned the "deplorable events" in Gaza.

They called on the leaders of the rival factions to honour "their undertaking to respect the Mecca agreement, prevent acts of violence and prosecute those who commit any."

The Mecca agreement signed by Abbas and Hamas's exiled supremo Khaled Meshaal was designed precisely to end similar infighting that killed 100 Palestinians in two months.

Egyptian President

Hosni Mubarak, whose envoys have been frantically shuttling between the two sides in a bid to shore up a truce, called for an "immediate halt" to infighting that he said crossed a "red line."

The head of the Cairo-based Arab League, Amr Mussa, condemned the fighting in Gaza but also criticised the dire economic situation in the territory brought on by a more than year-old Western aid freeze.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, called for an immediate end to the violence and also slammed Palestinian rocket firing into Israel.

"The secretary general calls on all Palestinian factions to cease immediately all acts of violence," Ban's spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement.

The statement noted that the deadly factional fighting included "unacceptable attacks on

Palestinian Authority installations, institutions and personnel and endangers civilians throughout Gaza."

And it described as "equally unacceptable" rocket firing into Israel by Palestinian militants.

The German presidency of the

European Union joined in the calls, urging Palestinian leaders to do everything in their power to stop the bloodshed and the rocket attacks on Israel.

Berlin said the EU is "deeply concerned about the escalation of violence between Palestinian factions ...

"The presidency condemns in the strongest possible terms the Kassam missile attacks launched from the Gaza Strip against Israeli territory which have caused many injuries."


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