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Arabs Warn of New Violence if Israel Alters Peace Process

Arab leaders warned Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu this week that tension and violence would ensue in the region if the new Israeli government deviates from the “principles of the peace process.”

But Israeli officials said the Arab leaders were prejudging the new government before it was formed and that they were disregarding repeated statements Likud leader Netanyahu has made pledging his commitment to the process.

“It is unacceptable that the Arab leaders form an opinion and issue such a statement before the new government has even taken power,” Israeli President Ezer Weizman said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio.

After their weekend summit in Damascus, Syrian President Hafez Assad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak an Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah issued a joint statement calling on Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories.

The three warned that any departure by Israel from the land-for-peace principles of the peace process pursued by the outgoing Labor government would be considered a threat to return the region to “tension and violence.”

They also called on Turkey to re-evaluate the military pact it signed in February with Israel.

That agreement, which provided for joint maneuvers and Israeli training flights over Turkey, drew sharp criticism from several Muslim countries, including Egypt.

In another development, Syrian leader Assad met Sunday with the Qatari foreign minister and asked that the Persian Gulf state freeze the low-level economic ties it forged with Israel in April.

Mubarak phoned Arab leaders this week to invite them to a June 21-23 meeting in Cairo, where they would attempt to develop a unified stance regarding the new Israeli government.

Among those invited were representatives of the Palestinians, Jordan, the Gulf Arab states, North African states and Mauritania.

Netanyahu refused to comment on the weekend Arab summit.

Aides said that since his May 29 election victory, he has made clear his intent to continue the peace process with the Palestinians and Syria.

While he has yet to elaborate on his specific policy goals, Israeli media reported over the weekend that a draft of policy guidelines for the new government incorporated the hardline positions Netanyahu presented before the elections: opposition to an independent Palestinian state and to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.

The people Netanyahu appoints to key Cabinet posts also will indicate which direction he intends to pursue in the peace process.

David Levy, the head of the Gesher Party, which merged with Likud in the Knesset race, was reported by Israel Television as the likely candidate for foreign minister, a position he held in the Likud government led by Yitzhak Shamir.

Likud Knesset member Yitzhak Mordechai, the recently retired head of the northern command who is the No. 2 person on the Likud Knesset list, was seen as the lead candidate for defense minister, Israel Television reported.

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