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Arab League accuses Israel and Iran of stoking regional unrest

Nabil Elaraby and other regional leaders say ‘meddling’ by non-Arab neighbors is fueling tensions

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, left, speaks during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at the conclusion of an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, Sunday, March 29, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Thomas Hartwell)
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, left, speaks during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri at the conclusion of an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, Sunday, March 29, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Thomas Hartwell)

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby on Sunday accused Israel, Iran and Turkey of fueling conflict in a number of countries across the Middle East and of complicating efforts to achieve stability in the turmoil-struck region.

Elaraby accused the only three non-Arab countries in the region of “meddling” with other countries and causing turmoil, as the Arab body took initial steps toward creating a joint fighting force to thwart regional threats.

“There is meddling by some neighbors, Israel on one side, Turkey and Iranian interference in several countries,” Elaraby said during the closing remarks of a two-day Arab summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh.

He was responding to a question about accusations by several Arab leaders of the threat posed to the region’s Arab identity by what they called moves by “foreign” or “outside parties” to stoke sectarian, ethnic or religious rivalries in Arab states.

Many of the statements were thinly-veiled references to Iran, which has in recent years consolidated its hold in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen.

But Elaraby said Israel and Turkey were also overstepping their bounds to stoke tensions.

The head of the Arab League further vowed to defeat Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen, highlighting plans to form a joint Arab intervention force and setting the stage for a potentially dangerous clash between US-allied Arab states and Tehran over influence in the region.

“Yemen was on the brink of the abyss, requiring effective Arab and international moves after all means of reaching a peaceful resolution have been exhausted to end the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy,” Elaraby said.

Flames and smoke billow from the site of an explosion that hit an arms depot in the Yemenite city of Aden on March 28, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/SALEH AL-OBEIDI)
Flames and smoke billow from the site of an explosion that hit an arms depot in the Yemenite city of Aden on March 28, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/SALEH AL-OBEIDI)

Elaraby said the chiefs of staff would meet within a month and would have an additional three months to work out the details before presenting their proposal to a meeting of the Arab League’s Joint Defense Council. Preparations for the force will be under the auspices of Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco — the former, present and next chairs of the Arab League.

“It is an important resolution given all the unprecedented unrest and threats endured by the Arab world,” he said.

A summit resolution said the newly unveiled joint Arab defense force would be deployed at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat and that it would also be used to combat terrorist groups.

The agreement came as US and other Western diplomats were pushing to meet a Tuesday deadline to reach a deal with Iran that would restrict its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The Saudis and their allies in the Gulf fear that a nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran will free Iran’s hands to bolster its influence in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority. They believe the air campaign in Yemen and a joint Arab force would empower them to stand up to what they see as Iran’s bullying. The US has sought to offer reassurances that a nuclear deal does not mean that Washington will abandon them, but they remain skeptical.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi speaks during the Arab League summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on March 28, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/STR)
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi speaks during the Arab League summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on March 28, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/STR)

The Houthis swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September. Embattled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close US ally against a powerful local al-Qaeda affiliate, first fled to the southern city of Aden before fleeing the country last week as the rebels closed in.

Adiv Sterman contribute to this report.

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