Breaking with Arab League, Abbas opposes Syria strike

Arabs attacking Arabs is one thing — Americans attacking Arabs is something else, PA president tells his party

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, September 1, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, September 1, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Breaking with the Arab League, which on Sunday endorsed UN-backed military action in Syria, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is promoting a diplomatic plan for resolving the crisis in Syria.

Surprising Fatah members at a gathering of the Revolutionary Council in Ramallah , Abbas declared that the Palestinian leadership was opposed in principle to a military strike against Syria.

“We are against any military strike against Syria, and will not allow an Arab country to be bombed from the outside. We condemn the use of chemical weapons by any party,” Abbas told the gathering Sunday, according to a report Tuesday on the official WAFA news agency. “The solution to the crisis in Syria must be political. There is no military solution.”

The Palestinian leadership has been facing mounting criticism for its inability to protect Palestinian refugees living in Syria from the civil war raging in the country since March 2011.

Palestinian delegations that traveled to Syria to plead with the Assad regime to leave refugee camps out of the of fighting have returned empty-handed. On Tuesday, Palestinian Syrians launched an online campaign titled “The week of breaking the silence on Palestinian refugee camps.”

Abbas’s statement clashed sharply with the position expressed by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, who said on Sunday during an Arab ministerial meeting in Cairo that responding militarily to the plight of the Syrian people cannot be considered “foreign intervention.”

The ministers’ closing statement also reflected those sentiments.

“The United Nations and the international community are called upon to assume their responsibilities in line with the UN Charter and international law by taking the necessary deterrent measures against the culprits of this crime that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for,” the ministers said in a statement following their session.

Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia and Algeria represented the minority position opposing military intervention in Syria.

Abbas’ political plan for Syria was presented to US President Barack Obama during his visit to the region back in March, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told the pro-Assad news channel Al-Mayadeen on Monday. Malki would not reveal the details of the plan, but said it was also presented to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the Chinese leadership, and UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.

In his speech to the Revolutionary Council, Abbas said that both the Americans and the Russians accepted his plan, which has become the cornerstone of the international diplomatic drive on Syria.

With regards to the use of force, Abbas said there was an essential difference between Arab nations attacking another Arab country and the United States doing so.

“If Arabs strike each other, we say ‘May God guide them’ and we don’t intervene. But if someone [else] attacks Arabs, we will not stand by them. For instance, we stand by the United Arab Emirates with regards to the Islands [in dispute with Iran] and against any attack on an Arab state. Therefore, we are against the US attacking Syria with missiles, and this is our position and policy.”

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