• Leaders united in their condemnation of Trump administration policies
  • Rejects any measures undermining Syria's sovereignty over the Golan Heights
  • Iran and Turkey meddling to blame for instability in the region

Dubai: King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who presided over the last summit and is leading the Saudi delegation to Tunis, opened the summit on Sunday with a speech giving the lead to President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia.

Arab heads of state, are expected to unite at a summit on Sunday to oppose a U.S. decision to recognize Israel’s annexation of Arab lands captured in 1967.

King Salman opened the summit stressing: "The Palestinian issue is at the top of the Kingdom's concerns, and we reject measures that undermine Syrian sovereignty over the Golan heights."

On the Yemeni conflict, King Salman told Arab leaders: "We affirm support for United Nations efforts in Yemen to reach a political solution, while Saudi Arabia continues its relief and humanitarian programs to help the Yemeni people."

Ending his speech with a message of hope saying "Despite the challenges facing our Arab nation, we are optimistic about a promising future that will meet the hopes of our people."

King Salman arrived in Tunisia on Friday ahead of the summit, accompanied by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf, Finance Minister Mohammed Al Jadaan and Commerce and Investment Minister Majed Al Qasabi, the king was welcomed by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.

A view outside the Tunisian capital Tunis' Conference Palace, where the 30th session of the Arab League summit is taking place Image Credit: AFP

The annual Arab League summit is taking place on Sunday in Tunisia.

Iraq's President Barham Salih, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah AL Sisi, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour during the group photo with Arab leaders, ahead of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis Image Credit: Reuters

The leaders of Algeria, Sudan and Morocco have announced they are skipping the meeting.

Also in attendance was Qatar Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. This is the first time Gulf leaders attend the same conference since the dispute of 2017. Tamim left the summit after the opening, without saying his speech.

Qatar’s state news agency QNA said Sheikh Tamim had departed Tunisia after attending the opening session of the Arab League summit but did not give a reason why he left the meeting.

Qatar's Emir Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani attends the opening of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis. Image Credit: AP

Arab League spokesman Mahmoud Afifi says the 22-member bloc will aim to issue a proclamation affirming the international consensus that the Golan is an occupied Syrian land.

The annual gathering will also look into readmitting Syria's membership in the Arab League, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry and the war in Yemen.

Tunisian president's speech

Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi accepted the leadership of the summit. He started his speech stating: "It is unacceptable for the Arab situation to continue as it is, we refuse to keep the Arab region being a scene for regional and international interventions."

Calling the 30th Arab summit “The Summit of Determination and Solidarity", he called upon Arabs to convey the "importance of establishing a Palestinian state in order to achieve a regional stability. A just settlement can only be achieved with the a two-state solution and Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine."

On Libya, Essebsi said that the situation in the North African country reflects on the security of Tunisia, adding: "Dialogue and consensus are the most effective way to end the Libyan crisis."

Summit spokesman Mahmoud Al Khmeiry said the heads of state would renew their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes peace with Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all lands occupied in 1967, but would reject any proposal that was not in line with UN resolutions.

This is a rejection of an as yet unannounced US peace plan by White House adviser Jared Kushner, which Palestinians have refused to discuss. The summit is expected to mobilize international support for full Palestinian membership in the UN.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, center left, stands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Jordan's King Abdullah II, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the group photo with Arab leaders Image Credit: AP

This year's summit comes against a backdrop of ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen, rival authorities in Libya and a lingering boycott of Qatar by four fellow League members. Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir skipped the meeting as they contend with mass protests against their long reigns.

Arab region refuses despair

Arab League Secretary General Ahmad Abu Al Gheit has started his speech saying that the “Arab region is in a delicate situation but refuses to drift to despair."

Commenting on the security situation Abu Al Gheit raised the red flag on regional interventions in the Arab world.

Al Gheit said: "The security of the Arab nations is indivisible, and no one wins a civil war. Our security is under unprecedented threats.”

He adding: "We should all unit as one force under one umbrella against the regional interventions. Turkish and Iranian interventions have exacerbated and prolonged the crisis in Arab world. We cannot accept anymore that regional countries have hotbeds in our region."

Abu Al Gheit expressed Arab league stand on Golan heights saying "U.S. Declaration on the Golan contradicts all international norms and we reject any Israeli domination over the rights of Palestinians."

The territorial integrity of Syria

Attending the Arab summit is U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who also in a speech at the opening told Arab leaders that any resolution to the Syrian conflict must guarantee the territorial integrity of Syria, including the occupied Golan Heights.

Syria's chair is seen empty during the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis Image Credit: Reuters

Addressing an Arab League summit in Tunis, Guterres said two-state solution for Israel and Palestine was an "imperative".

Guterres added: "I call for the unity of the Arab world as a condition for the stability of the region and prevent external interference.

He also welcomed efforts towards a peaceful and democratic transition in Algeria "that addresses the concerns of the Algerian people in a timely way".

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who is also attending the summit, said that ignoring United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Golan Heights was "not a solution".

Mogherini also said a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine was "the only viable and realistic solution ... we have a responsibility to prevent the two state solution from being irreversibly dismantled," she told an Arab League summit in Tunis.

"Any future plan will have to recognise the internationally-agreed parameters, including on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, and the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of the two states."

Highlights from Arab leaders' speech

Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, Emir of Kuwait, expressed his concern about the regional challenges, stressing that an immediate action plan should be adopted to improve the living standards of Arab people, and to seek immediate solutions to restore stability of Arab countries.

Adding "we want a relationship with Iran that respects state sovereignty and neighbours."

King Abdullah II, king of Jordan and as the Hashemite Custodian of Jerusalem's Islamic and Christian holy sites in his speech refused the ongoing attempts by Israelis to change the identity of Jerusalem "We reject any attempt to change the identity of Jerusalem, it remains Arab and the Palestinian issue remains our priority."

Adding "There are constant attempts to destroy our Arab fabric and identity we should continue our fight against terrorism and extremism must continue despite defeat of Daesh."

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi in his speech addressed terrorism and extremist in the region saying "We face an important need for a comprehensive confrontation with terrorism and extremist thought. The religious dialogue must be renewed to reflect the spirit of tolerance."

Stressing the need to confront regional challenges "Joint action must be strengthened in order to confront external interventions fueling sectarian conflicts in our countries. The Arab nationalism interests should be placed above any other consideration."

President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president adressed the summit expressing his fear of the constant attempts by Israel and US to eliminate the Palestinian cause saying "Israeli occupation continues its repressive measures to destroy the identity of Jerusalem. Al Aqsa Mosque is being subjected to permanent incursions from the occupation."

Adding "Israeli occupation does not differentiate between Islamic and Christian holy sites. The Israeli occupation continues it violations with the US support. The United States has dropped the principle of a two-state solution. We fear additional measures will be taken to eliminate what remains of Palestinian rights.”

Closing his speech assuring Arab leaders that "We uphold our rights, a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital."