Leaders conclude 31st Arab League summit in Algeria

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Arab leaders on Wednesday concluded the 31st summit of the largest annual Arab conference after seeking to bridge the gap on several divisive issues in the Middle East and Africa. The first Arab League gathering in three years took place against the backdrop of rising inflation, food and energy shortages, drought and the soaring cost of living across the region.

The kings, emirs, presidents and prime ministers discussed several thorny issues during a two-day gathering in the capital Algiers. Among them was the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and four Arab countries as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies appeared to be heading to an election victory.

The summit’s discussions also focused on the food and energy crises aggravated by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The conflict has had devastating consequences for Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia, among other Arab countries struggling to import enough wheat and fuel to satisfy their populations.

Arab leaders acknowledged the dire consequences of the war for their nations and one after another called for a “collective Arab action” to face common challenges. Those include food and energy shortages and the effects of climate change on their societies. But they presented no details on a potential mechanism that would help feed their people.

Deepening the crisis is the worst drought in several decades that has ravaged swaths of Somalia, one of the Arab League’s newer members, bringing some areas of the country to the brink of famine.

Reduced grain supplies have also deepened the hunger that grips Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished country, after eight years of civil war. According to United Nations estimates, half a million Yemeni children are severely malnourished and more than two-thirds of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The war in Ukraine has added to Yemen’s misery as the east European country supplied 40% of Yemen’s grain before Russia’s invasion.

Reports from Turkey on Wednesday said that Russia has agreed to return to a Turkish and U.N. -brokered deal that allows the shipment of millions of tons Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. That may provide some relief for Arab leaders grappling with soaring food prices and shortages of basic staples.

Many Arab countries are almost entirely dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat exports and fertilizers, and Russia’s reinforcement of its blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Sunday threatened to further escalate the crisis.

The Arab League summit provided an opportunity for Algeria — Africa’s largest country by territory — to showcase its leadership in the Arab world. Algeria is a major oil and gas producer and is perceived by European nations as a key supplier amid the global energy crisis that stems from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Algeria, along with other Arab countries, remains fiercely opposed to the series of normalization agreements the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco signed with Israel over the past three years that have divided the region into two camps. Sudan has also agreed to establish ties with Israel.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune urged league members to reaffirm their support for the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel as the Arab and international communities’ attention shifts to other conflicts and crises.

“Our main and first cause, the mother of all causes, the Palestinian issue, will be at the heart of our concerns and our main priority,” Tebboune said in his opening speech Tuesday. He blasted Israel for its “continued occupation” of Palestinian territories and “expanding its illegal settlements.”

Last month, Algeria hosted talks in a bid to end the Palestinian political divide and reconcile the Fatah party, whose Palestinian Authority rules parts of the occupied West Bank, and the militant Hamas group, which has control of the Gaza Strip.

The Arab summit took place at a time of heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli military has conducted nightly arrest raids in searches for Palestinian militants. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in recent months, including armed gunmen, stone-throwing teenagers and people uninvolved in violence.

The 22-member Arab League last held its summit in 2019, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Surk reported from Nice, France. Associated Press writer Jack Jeffery in Cairo contributed to this report.

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