Arab League: Reduced Representation Does not Undermine Beirut Economic Summit

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Arab states at an economic summit in Beirut called on world powers on Sunday to step up efforts to enable Syrian refugees to return home.

He also proposed the creation of an Arab bank for reconstruction and development "to help all affected Arab states overcome adversity and contribute to their sustainable economic growth".

Sheikh Tamim and the president of Mauritania were the only heads of state from the 22-member Arab League who came to Beirut to attend Sunday's summit.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, had called earlier at the summit for safe refugee returns "without tying that to reaching a political solution".

Lebanon also plans to put forward an initiative calling on countries in the region to help spread the burden of the 1.5 million refugees living on its soil.

"I will not be attending the summit because the Arab League is the organizer of the event and its approach towards Syria is inappropriate", Ali was quoted as saying by Elnashra, an online independent newspaper.

The United Nations says it is not yet safe to return.

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He called on pre-existing Arab development banks to convene in Beirut within the next three months to discuss the proposal and other measures to address the need for reconstruction and economic assistance in light of current conditions. But Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani arrived shortly before the summit and left shortly after it began.

"We can see that most of Lebanese want to open up to Syria and take part in the country's reconstruction, and this can be done after Syria's re-admission", he said.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership in November 2011 as the death toll mounted in its civil war, but several Arab states are seeking to restore ties with Syria President Bashar al-Assad after his forces made decisive gains in the conflict. Other politicians oppose this, insisting the United Nations must oversee any repatriations.

But almost eight years into the war, which has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions, efforts to bring the government of Assad back into the Arab fold appear underway.

Aoun said he had hoped the summit would be a chance "to bring together all the Arabs and that there would be no empty seats. but the obstacles were unfortunately stronger".

In a sign of deep division among Arab countries over the Syria issue, seven Arab leaders who were originally expected to attend the meeting failed to show up.

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