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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 23:31 GMT
Arab ministers condemn Israel
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef, left, with his Lebanese counterpart Elias Murr
Arab leaders want the US to put more pressure on Israel
Arab interior ministers have begun a meeting in Beirut with joint condemnation of Israeli "state terrorism" against the Palestinians.

If Israel's inhuman practices are not terrorism, then what is terrorism?

Saudi Prince Nayef
The three-day meeting comes at a sensitive time, in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks on the United States. It will deal with security co-operation in fighting terrorism and crime - especially drug-trafficking.

The Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, one of the delegates from 17 Arab countries, said that combating terrorism was a religious duty and a top priority.

"Fighting terrorism whatever its source is a top priority for our country and a duty spelled out by the Islamic religion," he said.

A security guard in front of the building where the meeting is held
Security is tight around the hotel where the meeting is being held
Prince Nayef denied any connection between Saudi Arabia and the 11 September attacks, although Osama Bin Laden is Saudi-born and the US has said that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

"We have become the accused and the victim all at once... before the answer to the following question became clear: Who did this? Individuals, a group, a state or states? Moderates or deviants?" Prince Nayef said.

'Legitimate resistance'

The ministers made a point of distinguishing between terrorism and the Palestinian people's struggle for independence.

The Lebanese Interior Minister, Elias Murr, read out a statement from his president, Emile Lahoud, calling for a clear definition of "terrorism" in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

World Trade Center
Saudi Arabia denies any connection to the 11 September attacks
It asked how Middle East peace could be reached when "resisting the [Israeli] occupation with naked bodies is considered terrorism, while Israel's occupation and its [policy] of organised destruction is considered self defence."

He said that for terrorism to be eradicated, it was necessary to "deal with its causes, and achieve true justice and equality between peoples and nations."

Apparently referring to the US, Israel's closest ally, Mr Murr said whoever "thinks that pursuing a double-standard policy and putting the logic of force before justice is mistaken."

Israel accused

Prince Nayef also called for a clearer definition of "terrorism".

"We are closely watching what is happening before our eyes in the Palestinian occupied territories, including the inhuman acts and state terrorism being practiced by Israel against the unarmed Palestinian people," he said.

"This is what makes us all ask: If Israel's inhuman practices are not terrorism, then what is terrorism?"

The interior ministers' summit comes ahead of an Arab League summit which is due to be held in Beirut at the end of March.

See also:

29 Jan 02 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia 'still friends' with US
04 Jan 02 | Middle East
Arab League names liberal envoy
26 Nov 01 | Middle East
PR firm 'to polish Arab image'
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Quick guide: Arab League
20 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Timeline: Arab League
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