LATAKIA–Syria (Reuter)–Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara Wednesday condemned Israeli-Turkish naval maneuvers being conducted off the Syrian Mediterranean coast city of Latakia.
Addressing a plenary session of foreign ministers of the so-called Damascus Declaration states grouping Syria–Egypt and six Gulf Arab countries–he expressed surprise at plans by the United States–a sponsor of Arab-Israeli peace talks–to take part in the naval games at a later stage.
The minister hinted that the choice of Latakia as the site for the current meeting was because the games were being conducted nearby.
Shara also indirectly criticized Qatar for planning to host an economic meeting in which Israel is scheduled to take part–saying Arabs should give priority to commitmen’s they made to each other rather than to commitmen’s made to Israel.
The minister said the biggest challenge facing the meeting was the stalled Middle East peace talks–which he said were "sinking because Israel closed all doors for peace."
Speaking of Israeli-Turkish military cooperation–Shara said–"This alliance puts big responsibilities upon us because it was created while we were in a peace process…
"While we as Arabs were searching seriously for real horizons to reach a just and comprehensive peace–Israel and Turkey announced a military alliance and the conducting of military exercises…
"There are now military warships moving only miles from this steadfast city. Turkish and Israeli warships. It is regrettable that Israel’s partner this time is a Moslem neighbor with whom we had deep-rooted relations."
"The United States–which will participate in these maneuvers after a while–justifies what is going on by saying these are exercises for rescue operations.
"It’s strange that the United States exerts efforts for marine rescue operations and ignores that it should exert efforts to rescue the peace process–which is sinking in front of their eyes."
The minister said of the Qatar economic conference scheduled for September: "We are in need more than any time before to commit ourselves to what we agree upon. Absence of commitment and giving priority to other commitmen’s to those who are plotting against us constitutes in itself a very big challenge."
Qatar has said it would go ahead with the meeting because it had a commitment to the countries participating–despite criticism from several Arab countries–mainly Syria.
Qatar’s foreign minister did not attend the Latakia meeting but sent his deputy.
Shara expressed satisfaction with the atmosphere at the opening of the talks on Tuesday night and said–"We feel optimistic regarding the future despite the current tensions. Our cooperation would help overcome these tensions and revive the peace process."
The ministers on Tuesday night expressed support for Syria’s position on peace talks with Israel and also supported establishment of an Arab common market.