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Arab Leaders Call for Probe Into Syria Chemical Attacks, Condemn Iran

(1st row, from L) President of Iraq Fuad Masum, Yemen’s President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, President of Lebanon Michel Aoun, President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Emir of Kuweit Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud (2nd row, From R) Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, President of the Algerian Senate Abdelkader Bensalah, Libya’s unity government Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd Bin Mahmud Al-Said, Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, President of the Comoros Azali Assoumani and Qatari Ambassador to Arab leaque Saif Bin Muqaddam Al-Buainain pose for a family picture during the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia, on April 15, 2018. (Getty)

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia – The Arab League called on Sunday for an international probe into the “criminal” use of chemical weapons in Syria and condemned what it saw as Iran’s interference in the affairs of other countries.

“We stress our absolute condemnation of the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people and we demand an independent international investigation to guarantee the application of international law against anyone proven to have used chemical weapons,” said a statement distributed to journalists.

It emphasised the need for a political solution to the multi-sided Syrian war.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have expressed support for Saturday’s missile strikes by the United States, Britain and France against alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria, while Iraq and Lebanon condemned the strikes.

Damascus denies using or possessing chemical weapons and called the strikes an act of aggression.

Military help over the past three years from Russia and Iran, which also backs Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shi’ite Muslim militias in Iraq, has allowed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crush the rebel threat to topple him.

The communique called for more international sanctions on Iran and urged it to withdraw “its militias” from Syria and Yemen.

“The summit condemned Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries, either through igniting sectarian strife or planting militias in Arab countries such as Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, and harbouring al Qaeda terrorists,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir told a news conference.

Iran denies the accusations.

“JERUSALEM SUMMIT”

Saudi Arabia, which takes over the rotating chair of the Arab summit from Jordan, announced that this gathering would be named the “Quds (Jerusalem) Summit”, a reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which Arab states condemned.

Delegates pledged to support the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. King Salman said Saudi Arabia was donating $200 million to help them, including $50 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Qatar did not send a senior official. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar last June, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the charges.

Its delegation was headed by its permanent representative to the Arab League, Saif bin Muqaddam al-Buainain, Qatar’s state news agency said.

Most of the 22 other countries sent heads of state or government. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani headed Qatar’s delegation at last year’s summit in Jordan.

Asked why Qatar was not on the summit’s agenda, the Saudi foreign minister said: “Because Qatar is not on the agenda. It’s not a big issue. It’s not a big problem. It’s a very, very small problem.”

He said the issue would be resolved if Doha met the boycotting countries’ demands, which include closing the Al Jazeera television station and reducing ties with Iran.

Tunisia will host the next Arab League summit in 2019.

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