Libya prepares for Sirte Arab summit; Mubarak expected to attend

The Libyan city of Sirte is preparing to host an extraordinary Arab League (AL) summit on Saturday, as well as the second Arab-African summit slated for Sunday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reportedly intensified contacts with Egypt and other Arab states in advance of the event in an effort to arrive at a solution to the issue of Israeli settlement building on occupied Palestinian land.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Wednesday said that Clinton had relayed to Arab governments that direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were at "a critical juncture," stressing that more efforts were needed to avoid the latter's withdrawal from the negotiation process.

On Friday, the AL's Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee will meet in an effort to forge a unified Arab stance vis-a-vis the direct talks with Israel, linking the cessation of Israeli settlement building to the continuation of negotiations. The committee postponed the meeting two times before.

Arab and African foreign ministers also plan to meet on Thursday evening in Sirte to prepare for the Arab-African summit, which is being convened 33 years after the first summit was held in Cairo in 1977.

While it remains unknown how many Arab leaders will attend the two gatherings, diplomatic sources expect most heads of state to show up, including President Hosni Mubarak.

The Arab Summit is expected to address a number of issues, including the League of Arab Neighbors initiative, recently proposed by league chief Amr Moussa. The initiative aims to establish a regional forum for the discussion of pressing political and security matters, although key Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have voiced concerns over the issue of Iran's inclusion in the scheme.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has reportedly ratcheted up pressure on US President Barack Obama, pointing to a US "commitment"–signed by his predecessor George W. Bush in 2004–to recognize Israel's right to maintain major West Bank settlement blocs.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, has insinuated that he would resign if peace talks failed.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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