Vol. 4 Num 293 Wed. March 24, 2004  

'Arab reform pushed aside by Israeli killing'

Arab leaders faced with the fallout from Israel's assassination of Palestinian Islamist leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin will have little time for US-inspired plans for reform when they meet in Tunis next week.

Arab leaders will be forced, not only to respond to a likely escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also cope with security concerns arising from a wave of popular anger over Monday's killing in Gaza City, analysts say.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, who was already in Tunis to prepare for the March 29-30 summit, made it clear Monday that the Arab-Israeli conflict now topped the agenda.

"This assassination has already cast a shadow over the summit and the consequences of the elimination of Sheikh Yassin will be at the heart of discussions of the participating heads of state," Mussa said in a statement.

Sources close to the league said the Palestinian issue had originally been third on the agenda, following the issue of reform and efforts to restore sovereignty to Iraqis.

Though Mussa did not say what would happen to debate on reform, Egyptian analyst Abdel Moneim Said expected "the reform agenda will not take much time, if any" at the summit.

Arab governments had hoped to agree on a framework for reform of both Arab League institutions -- including proposals for an Arab parliament and court of justice -- as well as reform of Arab political systems, he said.

Guidelines discussed in the Egyptian city of Alexandria last week -- such as increased checks and balances, the need for elected institutions and promotion of human rights -- were to have been presented at the summit, he added.