August 3, 2006

Muslim world weighs peace role in Lebanon conflict

By Clarence Fernandez

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (Reuters) - Leaders from the Muslim
world, demanded on Thursday an immediate end to Israeli attacks
on Lebanon and Gaza and weighed inclusion of Muslim forces in a
future peacekeeping operation.

Aroused by restive populations back home, and aghast at the
death toll in heavily Muslim southern Lebanon, select members
of the Organization of Islamic Conference, spearheaded by
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gathered in special
session -- more than three weeks after the start of the crisis.

"We must show preparedness to contribute forces for
peacekeeping operations under the United Nations banner,"
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia's prime minister and host of
the conference, said in remarks prepared for delivery in closed
session. "Malaysia is ready to do that."

Summing up the frustration of many across the Muslim world,
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia demanded of her fellow
OIC members: "The question that may come up is why this meeting
could not be convened earlier."

At least 643 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and
56 Israelis, have been killed in the conflict.

Among others attending were the president of Indonesia, the
world's most populous Muslim nation, the prime minister of
Muslim powerhouse Turkey, and representatives of Pakistan and

But it was the charismatic figure of Ahmadinejad, his
hardline views on Israel reinvigorated by public backing from
Iran's supreme clerical leader, that was expected to animate
the conference and advance efforts to get the OIC's voice heard
above the diplomatic din.


Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the
map, arrived just before the opening session and declined any
comment. On Wednesday, Iranian state television quoted
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in matters of
state, as saying Iran would never bend in its support for
Lebanese resistance against Israel.

As their leaders met behind closed doors, OIC diplomats
said a draft communique now circulating would seek to place
Muslim "Blue Helmets" under U.N. control. It also calls for an
inquiry into possible Israeli war crimes in its campaign
against targets in southern Lebanon and Gaza.

"Many countries have expressed their readiness to send
troops under the banner of the United Nations," OIC Secretary
General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told reporters during a break.

"They asked the OIC to be more active in the peace building
process and in the rebuilding of Lebanon after a ceasefire
establishes peace," he said of the deliberations so far.

In addition, the OIC draft demands an immediate ceasefire,
adding to the pressure on Israel and its superpower ally the
United States to reverse course and agree to end the fighting
first and then deploy peacekeepers.

It is unclear whether the Jewish state, as a party to the
conflict, or its superpower ally the United States would accept
direct Muslim participation in a peace-keeping operation. Many
OIC member states do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

(Additional reporting by Jalil Hamid)