Arab Leaders Call for Palestinian Unity During 'Terrible Massacre'

The "terrible massacre" occurring among the Palestinian people would never have happened if it hadn't been for the divisions among them, said Saudi Arabia's foreign minister at the opening of an emergency Arab League meeting Wednesday.

Saud al-Faisal slammed the ongoing division of the Palestinians between the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority, under Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank saying it opened the door to Israel's air strikes against the Gaza Strip.

"This terrible massacre would not have happened if the Palestinian people were united behind one leadership speaking in one voice," he said at the league meeting's opening.

"We are telling our Palestinian brothers that your Arab nation cannot extend a real helping hand if you don't extend your own hands to each other with love," he said.

Israel on Saturday began hitting Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip in response to repeated rocket attacks against the south of the country.

Five days into the attack 374 Palestinians have died, and the Arab League foreign ministers met for the first time since the crisis began in an effort to present a united Arab response in the face of widespread outrage across the region.

At the top of the meeting's agenda is an Egyptian-Turkish proposal for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that would also reopen the border crossings to the besieged strip.

The proposal also includes deploying European and Arab observers to check that both Hamas and Israel abide by the truce once it is established.

Egypt, which mediated the six-month-long cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that expired just before the recent attacks, has been a source of increasing animosity in the Arab world over its refusal during the past year to open the crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which has helped complete an Israeli blockade of the territory.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is touring the Middle East to build support for the proposal.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called on the Arab nations to present a united stance and urged the Palestinians to reconcile their long schism.

"The weakness of the Arab position and the divisions within the Palestinians ranks have all led to this disregard of the Arabs (internationally)," he said.

The ministers have to decide on a Qatari-Syrian proposal to convene an Arab heads of state summit to discuss the crisis, although initial discussions suggest there is little support for such a move.

Meanwhile, Egypt opened the al-Awja border crossing 43 miles (70 kilometers) south of the Gaza town of Rafah to convey humanitarian supplies to Gaza via Israel.

The al-Awja crossing will be used mostly to send food aid into Israel where it will be then transported to Gaza, while the Rafah crossing will be used primarily to transport medical aid and Palestinians seeking treatment, said Mohammed Fayez Arafat, an official with the Palestinian Authority in Rafah, Egypt.

So far, out of the 175 trucks that were waiting to enter al-Awja, only 30 have been allowed to cross "as the Israelis are checking every vehicle and its goods," Arafat said.

He added that on Wednesday, 10 Palestinian wounded crossed into Egypt from Gaza to seek medical attention. One transferred earlier, however, died of head injuries in a Cairo hospital.

Aid from around the Arab world for the Palestinians has been sent to Egypt to be transferred into Gaza, but little has passed through the crossing point until now, prompting further criticism of Egypt.

A group of radical Saudi clerics wrote a petition urging Egypt to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza, saying that its continued closure "helps the enemy achieve its goals."

The petition was signed by 65 radical clerics, a copy of it sent to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

"If it weren't for the Arab impotence, and the participation of some Arab governments into this conspiracy, the Zionists wouldn't have dared to carry out this massacre," the letter read.

Hamas itself, also appears to have lost patience with Egypt. An Egyptian security official reported attacks against their forces, including the wounding of one border guard early Wednesday by what he described as a Palestinian sniper.

The official also reported that two hand grenades and a mortar were fired into the Egyptian side of the border, but only one grenade detonated.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

After days of widespread demonstrations across the Middle East, there were scattered protests Wednesday. In the southern Egyptian city of Assiut, about 1,000 lawyers protested outside a courthouse, amid heavy security. The protesters demanded Egypt expel the Israeli ambassador from Cairo and stop exporting natural gas to Israel.

In downtown Cairo, a couple of thousand Egyptian protesters gathered outside the professional associations, but were disrupted by security who chased a number through the streets and arrested them.