All for peace

LEBANON continued to dominate the discussions during the 20th Arab Summit in Damascus even though the country boycotted the meet in protest against what it calls the Syrian interference in its internal affairs.

President Bashar Al Assad made a valiant attempt to coordinate the efforts of the Arab countries to forge unity during the meet even as leaders of almost half of the Arab League member-states stayed away from the summit. The low-level delegation to the summit from such powerful regional players as Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the absence of Lebanon did send a loud and clear message to President Assad - he should take "positive steps" to help the Arab plan with regard to Lebanon bear fruits.

Saudi Arabia has accused Damascus of not abiding by the Arab League plan on breaking the deadlock over a consensus presidential candidate. It's a charge that Syria has always denied. On the eve of the Arab Summit, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora reiterated his government's stand on Syrian influence. He pointed the finger at Syria for the ongoing political crisis in his country. In fact, the anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon and the disagreement between Syria and countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt over Lebanon did seem to reach quite an ominous pitch prior to the summit.

During the summit, while key Arab leaders urged Syria to fully cooperate with them to address the crucial issues facing the region, Assad did strike all the right notes. For instance, he told the gathering that his government strongly feels that the solution to the Lebanon problem lies in the hands of the Lebanese people themselves and that the summit has shown that Western powers like America have failed to rend the Arab unity asunder. Reiterating his country's stance on peace with Isreal, President Assad spoke up against the Israeli incursions that are detrimental to achieving peace in the region.

Syria also expressed its willingness to work with Arab allies to resuscitate a peace process in Lebanon. In fact, he called on Arabs to work closely together in order to attain a settlement of the conflicts not only in Lebanon, but also in other flashpoints in the Middle East.

In the final analysis, with the conclusion of the summit this year, a new phase in Arab relations might have just begun.

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