A 22-nation Arab summit to tackle the region’s various crises was cut back to a single day of talks Monday due to the absence of heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Leaders and top officials gathered in the Mauritanian capital to attend the opening of the regional summit focusing on ways of defeating terrorism, the rise of jihadism in the Middle East and the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi stayed at home because of “a busy domestic schedule” — amid unconfirmed reports of an assassination plot — while Saudi King Salman’s no-show was due to “health reasons,” an Arab League source told AFP.
A presidential statement from Sissi’s office gave no reason for his cancellation but the Egyptian press carried unconfirmed reports of a possible planned attempt on Sissi’s life during the gathering.
In a statement, presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef denied that Sissi canceled the trip out of security fears but did not give a reason for the cancellation. The private-owned Al-Masry al-Youm daily reported that the president’s office received “credible information” about a plot.
The summit, originally scheduled for two full days, is to focus primarily on security and on plans for a joint security force across a region fraught with violence, notably in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and the Palestinian territories.
On Sunday, Arab foreign ministers voiced support for a new French initiative aimed at relaunching Israeli-Palestinian talks and holding an international conference for peace by year end.
However, pre-summit ministerial talks showed there were sharp divisions over attitudes toward the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as over Turkey’s incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who is wanted for genocide and war crimes by The Hague-based International Criminal Court, flew into the Mauritanian capital for the talks.
Also present were the heads of state of Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen, Comoros and Djibouti as well as the premiers of Lebanon and Libya.
It is the first Arab League summit hosted by Mauritania since it joined the organization in 1973.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.