KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Muslim nations failed to define terrorism Tuesday at a conference to address the issue, but said they rejected any attempt to link the Palestinian struggle with terrorism.
Foreign ministers and officials of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference received a draft declaration after two days of debate and were expected to pass it without change. It made no attempt to define terrorism.
Opinion had been divided over Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's call Monday to classify as terrorism all attacks on civilians — including those by Palestinian suicide bombers.
Palestinian and other Middle East delegates rejected the proposal, saying that the suicide bombers were driven by frustration stemming from Israeli terrorism in the occupied territories, where Israeli tanks and troops have invaded Palestinian towns and besieged leader Yasser Arafat.
Mahathir noted that suicide bombers had strong grievances, but said that attacks targeting civilians could not be justified ``irrespective of the nobility of the struggle.''
With no consensus possible, the declaration presented Tuesday to delegates avoided defining terrorism and instead said what it was not — basically, anything linked to the Palestinian struggle.
Shaher Bak, Jordan's minister of state for foreign affairs, said there were too many differing opinions on a terrorism definition.
``Mahathir and Jordan speak the same language, we have no problem with what he said,'' Shaher said. ``But there is such a diverse opinion on the definition of terrorist. It is very difficult to come up with a single text that defines the thinking of 57 countries.''
Any definition reached by Islamic countries would have to be acceptable to the rest of the world if it was going to influence global opinion, Shaher said.
``This is a wasted opportunity,'' said Ahmad Azam, head of the Malaysian Youth Islamic Movement, a non-governmental organization invited to participate as an observer. ``The problem is too many countries have their own interests.''
Several delegates said it would be impossible to find a definition at a single conference.
The declaration said the countries reject ``any attempts to link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people'' to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.
``We reject any attempt to associate Islamic states or Palestinian and Lebanese resistance with terrorism,'' the draft said.
The roots of terrorism, including ``foreign occupation, injustice and exclusion'' should be addressed, it said.
Mahathir and other officials said that the Sept. 11 attacks, blamed on Islamic radical Osama bin Laden, were a disaster for the world's estimated 1.2 billion Muslims, whose faith was now believed to be rooted in terror.
The nations pledged their commitment to ``the principles and true teachings of Islam, which abhor aggression, value peace, tolerance and respect, as well as prohibiting the killing of innocent people.''
``We reject any attempt to link Islam and Muslims to terrorism, as terrorism has no association with any religion, civilization or nationality,'' the draft document said.
The countries agreed to form a 13-member committee to ``work toward an internationally agreed definition of terrorism'' under a U.N. convention to ``formulate a joint organized response of the international community to terrorism in all its forms and manifestation.''
The draft declaration supported an unprecedented offer by Arab countries last week to establish peace and normal relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal from all lands occupied in the 1967 Mideast war.
Mahathir, a prominent Muslim moderate and key U.S. ally in the campaign to crack al-Qaida, said that his proposal would cover the Sept. 11 attackers, Israeli troops who kill Palestinians — and the suicide bombers.
The conference came as Washington accused three nations present — Iran, Iraq and Syria — of using terror in a war against civilization.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri branded the allegations, made by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as part of a U.S. campaign aimed at deflecting attention from Washington's support for Israel.
``These are lies,'' Sabri said. ``It's an excuse to promote American policies, which are completely biased in favor of the Zionist entity.''
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi also rebuffed Rumsfeld's accusations and voiced support for an Iraqi proposal for Muslim nations to restrict oil supplies to pressure the United States and Israel.