Arab Leaders Back Crisis Plan

Three key Middle East leaders ended talks Saturday, calling on Arabs to support a Saudi peace initiative and denouncing Israeli military attacks on Palestinians.

Little new came out of the three-hour meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, whose peace initiative was adopted by Arab leaders at a Beirut summit in March.

Saturday's summit in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheik took place as Israeli tanks massed at the borders of the nearby Gaza Strip, home to 1 million Palestinians and power base of Hamas militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 15 Israelis Tuesday.

In a communique issued following the meeting, the three called for other Arab leaders to support the Beirut summit initiative, denounced Israeli attacks on Palestinians and called for international pressure to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The three leaders agreed that the Arab peace proposal and that summit were ``the base of any Arab move to achieve the aspired, just and comprehensive peace'' for the Mideast conflict, said Egyptian Information Minister Safwat el-Sharif.

The Beirut summit in March saw leaders adopt a Saudi formula offering Israel normal relations with Arabs if it withdrew from Arab land seized in the 1967 Mideast war and recognized a Palestinian state and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

El-Sharif said the three leaders ``reiterated the Arab desire for peace and their rejection of violence in all its forms, while saluting the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and praising their courageous uprising.''

``The leaders particularly condemned what Israel did in Jenin'' refugee camp, and demanded the implementation of U.N. resolutions calling for an investigation into the Israeli operations to hunt militants in the camp, the Egyptian official said.

Assad later returned to Damascus, while Mubarak and Abdullah remained in Sharm el-Sheik where they are expected to meet again Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Mubarak told reporters that if Israel invades the Gaza Strip, ``it will be very dangerous and this will be reflected in a horrible way on the Israeli people and on the whole region.''

Expectations had been high that Israel would retaliate in Gaza for Tuesday's attack claimed by Hamas militants. Reports said the troops would seek Palestinians suspected of organizing bombings.

However, the troops remained in place Saturday. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer decided Friday to postpone the strike because too many details of the operation had been leaked.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the Israeli postponement followed messages sent by Mubarak on Friday to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush.

``It is obvious that there is an Israeli reconsideration to the decision ... to attack Gaza,'' Maher told reporters. ``We don't say that the danger is over, but we say that there is more realization to the gravity of such an adventure.''

The leaders also listened to Abdullah's account of his April 25 talks with Bush in Washington, in which the Saudi leader presented Bush an eight-point program for reviving the peace process.

Another expected discussion point was the U.S. proposal for an international peace conference on the Middle East, but no mention was made of it in Saturday's communique.

Maher, the Egyptian foreign minister, told reporters after the summit that the conference concept was little more than an idea, since nothing had been put to Arab leaders about its agenda, terms of reference or who would attend.

Arabs states have reacted cautiously to the conference idea.