CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League condemned Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip as “crimes against humanity” on Wednesday.
Arab foreign ministers said they “strongly condemn the barbaric crimes that the Israeli occupation forces committed in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories”.
Meeting to prepare for an Arab summit in Syria this month that is expected to focus on Gaza and Lebanon, the ministers said in a statement they were “recording these Israeli crimes as crimes of war and crimes against humanity”.
Israel ended a five-day Gaza military offensive on Monday in which more than 120 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed. It has threatened to send troops back to the Hamas-run coastal territory if cross-border rocket attacks continue.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said: “The criminal aggression against Gaza shows that Israeli policy against the Palestinian people is based on genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to resume peace talks, but did not specify a date.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who froze negotiations on Sunday in protest at the Gaza attacks, said talks could not get underway until Israel reached a ceasefire with Gaza militants behind the rocket attacks.
In Cairo, the Arab ministers called on Palestinians to end internal divisions. Islamist Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’s Fatah faction in June.
The March 29-30 Arab summit in Damascus is expected also to deal with the political deadlock in Lebanon, which has been without a president since November due to a power struggle between the Western-backed government and pro-Syria opposition.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in Cairo that Lebanon and Saudi Arabia would be invited to attend the summit.
Syria has already invited all other Arab League members, politicians say.
Syria has strained ties with the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and had said it would wait until Lebanon elected a new president before inviting Beirut and Riyadh to the summit.
The Lebanese presidential vote has been postponed 15 times since September. The election is now due on March 11.
Egyptian state news agency MENA reported Moualem, speaking late on Tuesday, said “if a Lebanese president is not elected before the Arab summit, then Lebanon will choose who will represent it”.
Moualem would not be drawn on to whom the Lebanon invitation would be sent. Political sources said the Syrians would like someone other than Siniora to attend.
A Lebanese official said Siniora might not go if many Arab leaders stayed away. Diplomats in the region say they expect the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Jordan, to stay away unless Lebanon elected a president by then.
Syria expects at least 12 of 22 heads of state to attend, including those of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya as well as the Palestinian president.
Saudi Arabia’s relations with Syria deteriorated after the 2005 assassination of its main Lebanese ally, former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Many in Lebanon and the Arab world blamed Syria for the killing. Damascus denies any involvement.
Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Robert Woodward