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Arab Ministers Slam Bin Laden, Israel

Arab leaders railed against Usama bin Laden Monday and said most Muslims and Arabs do not support him or his cause.

"I think there is a war between him [bin Laden] and the world," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher told reporters before a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers.

At the gathering in the Syrian capital city of Damascus, Arab officials rejected bin Laden's claim that he is representing the interests of the Muslim and Arab communities.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said bin Laden — the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States — "does not speak for Arabs and Muslims."

Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization have called on Muslims to wage holy war against the United States following the Oct. 7 launch of U.S. airstrikes against Afghanistan, where the Taliban rulers have refused to hand over the suspected mastermind of several terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The comments by Moussa and Maher followed Saturday's broadcast of bin Laden's latest televised statement, in which he denounced the United Nations and criticized as "infidels" Arab leaders who consider using the world body to negotiate for peace.

It was the fifth time bin Laden or his Al Qaeda organization issued a statement on the Qatari television station Al-Jazeera since Oct. 7. The latest was apparently aimed at Arab leaders who have called for international efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Bin Laden has "been trying to take advantage of Islam, distort Islam, take on moderate regimes in the Middle East, take on civilized society in the West and in different parts of the world," Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to the United States, said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation.

"But it's a distortion. I don't agree with the argument. Islam has nothing to do with what he is propagating," Fahmy added.

Moussa later reiterated the Arab League's opposition to the possibility that the U.S.-led campaign inside Afghanistan would expand to include any Arab nation.

"Any attack against an Arab country means the international alliance [against terrorism] will break off," Moussa told reporters at the close of the two-day meeting.

The Arab League committee meeting in Damascus included Moussa and the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Yemen.

The committee was set up a year ago, shortly after the start of Palestinian-Israeli clashes, to garner support for the Palestinians.

Syria on Sunday likened Israeli action against Palestinians to terrorism and said the United States could not accuse others of terrorism while supporting the Jewish state.

"It is absolutely unacceptable [that one] who protects Israeli terrorism accuses others of terrorism," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa told the foreign ministers, who met to discuss ways to support the Palestinians and revive the Mideast peace process.

Al-Sharaa demanded that "a just and comprehensive" Mideast peace be achieved, saying that would rob terrorists of a cause they have used as a cover.

Moussa told a press conference following the committee meeting that the ministers agreed to guarantee the Palestinians more financial aid from the beginning of 2002. He did not elaborate on the value of the proposed assistance.

The Arab League committee was expected to travel to Brussels soon to meet with the 15 European Union foreign ministers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.