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Damascus Declaration states end meeting

By THANAA IMAM

DAMASCUS, Dec. 28 -- Foreign ministers from six Gulf Arab states, along with Egypt and Syria, ended a two-day meeting Thursday with an appeal for peace in a nuclear-free Middle East. They also called for the settlement of disputes over islands between Yemen and Eritrea and involving Iran and the United Arab Emirates. They also sought greater cooperation and coordination among the so- called Damascus Declaration states to 'confront current challenges.' 'They expressed satisfaction with the climate of openness which led to the resumption of the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations,' their statement said. After a meeting that coincided with the resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations in Maryland, the ministers affirmed complete support for Syria and its demands that Israel withdraw from land captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Damascus Declaration states are Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition force that ended Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. They comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE -- plus Egypt and Syria. It took the name after the Damascus Declaration, an alliance blueprint issued by their first meeting in the Syrian capital in 1991. The ministers underlined 'the keenness of their states to make the peace process a success' based on the international resolutions, the principle of land for peace and guaranteeing the national and political rights of the Palestinian people, the statement said. They called on Israel to implement international resolutions related to the status of Jerusalem and 'settlements in the occupied Arab land that Israel keeps on building in violation of the Geneva conventions and the goals of the peace process.'

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Renewing a call to make the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction, the ministers urged Israel to join the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty and put its nuclear installations under supervision of the International Atomic Agency. On Iraq, the ministers demanded that it comply with U.N. Security Council decisions by releasing all Kuwaiti prisoners and compensate for the damage incurred from its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. They called on Iraq to 'refrain from any provocative and aggressive actions that would threaten Kuwait and countries in the region' and voiced concern over the country's continued production of chemical weapons. The ministers expressed sympathy for the Iraqi people's difficulties, but said they held the government fully responsible by failure to abide by U.N. conditions, largely the economic sanctions imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The ministers also said they opposed 'any measure that harms or targets the safety and unity of the Iraqi territories,' and expressed regret for Iran's failure to respond to UAE calls for finding a peaceful settlement of the 'Iranian occupation' of three islands -- Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Mousa. The ministers reiterated support for the UAE's sovereignty over the islands and its demand to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. They called on Yemen and Eritrea to peacefully resolve their dispute over the Great Hanish island group in the mouth of the Red Sea, which Eritrea overran earlier this month, killing six Yemeni soldiers and capturing about 200. The ministers called on the Turkish government to reach a 'just, acceptable and final accord' with Syria and Iraq over sharing the Euphrates River waters and its plans to build dams across river, which rises in Turkey. Political observers said it was the first time the Damascus Declaration countries have expressed public and clear support for Syria in its complaints against for impeding its access to water from the Euphrates.

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