KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Islamic nations adopted an agreement Wednesday to condemn terrorism "in all its forms," but with qualifications that left room to defend Palestinian suicide bombers.
Wrapping up a three-day conference, foreign ministers and representatives of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference issued a five-page statement which failed to achieve their main task: defining terrorism.
That, delegates said, was a job for the United Nations.
"It is not for us to define international terrorism for the international community," Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mohamad Zarif, told The Associated Press.
"It is for us to ask the international community to start a process of defining terrorism," Zarif said. "That process has started."
Divisions emerged early in the conference after Palestinian and other Middle East delegates rejected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's proposal to condemn all attacks which targeted civilians as terrorism — including suicide bombings.
Mahathir said that attacks on civilians — whether carried out by the Sept. 11 hijackers, Israeli troops or Palestinian suicide bombers — should be seen as terrorism. He said, however, that the bombings were a reaction to state terrorism by Israel in Palestinian areas.
Growing anger in the Muslim world at Israel's military campaign in the West Bank and the siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat overtook debate on Mahathir's proposal.
In their final declaration, delegates agreed: "We reject any attempt to link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people in the exercise of their inalienable right to establish their independent state."
It committed Islamic countries to work toward an international definition that would distinguish between terrorism and "legitimate struggles ... against foreign occupation."
"We unequivocally condemn acts of international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state terrorism, irrespective of motives, perpetrators and victims," it said.
The conference comes as the world's 1.2 billion Muslims are looking to their leaders to counter what they see as a defamation campaign since the Sept. 11 attacks, blamed on Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.
"We would have liked to see the delegates picking up from the prime minister's proposed definition of terrorism, because that is a very fair definition," said Zulkifli Alwi, a senior leader of the youth wing of Mahathir's party.
"But realistically, I believe the delegates were constrained by the policies of their own governments," Zulkifli said.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said that the members of the organization — the world's foremost Islamic body — had demonstrated a "political will" and had not disagreed over terrorism.
The organization is resolved "to combat terrorism and to respond to the developments affecting Muslims and Islamic countries in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks," the declaration said.
Terrorism cannot be linked to any religion, the declaration said, and fighting it should "not result in ethnic profiling or the targeting of a particular community."
Delegates rejected "any unilateral action against any Islamic country under the pretext of combatting international terrorism" — an apparent reference to U.S. attempts to win support for a strike against Iraq, which Washington has accused of waging a war on civilization.
During the conference, delegates were split over whether an Islamic definition of terrorism would be useful, with some saying three days of debate were not enough. Others said any definition that isn't globally agreed would make little difference.
"It is like walking on a tightrope," said Al Khulaifi Abdul Rahman, a senior Foreign Ministry official from Qatar, the organization's current chair. "We need a definition that takes into account our feelings and, more importantly ... is accepted by the rest of the world."
The nations pledged commitment to "the principles and true teachings of Islam, which abhor aggression, value peace, tolerance and respect."
It supported an unprecedented Mideast peace plan adopted by Arab leaders in Lebanon last week that offered Israel full relations with all Arab nations if it pulls out from lands seized in the 1967 Mideast war.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference was created after a 1969 fire deliberately started by a mentally disturbed Australian Christian tourist that damaged Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam's holiest shrines.