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Arab Leaders Call For Probe Into Syria Chemical Attacks, Condemn Iran

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during the opening of 29th Arab Summit in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia April 15, 2018.
DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia, April 15 (Reuters)

Arab League leaders on Sunday called for an international probe into the "criminal" use of chemical weapons in Syria and condemned what they see as Iran's interference in the affairs of other countries.

"We stress our absolute condemnation of the use of chemical weapons against the sisterly Syrian people and we demand an independent international investigation to guarantee the application of international law to everyone proven to use chemical weapons," said a document distributed to journalists.

It emphasized the need for a political solution to the multi-sided Syrian war, which has killed at least half a million people in the past seven years. A previous statement read out at the close of the summit in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran did not mention Syria.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have expressed support for Saturday's missile strikes by the United States, Britain and France against three alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria, while other Arab states such as Iraq and Lebanon have condemned the strikes.

The Syrian government denies using or possessing chemical weapons and said the strikes were an act of aggression.

The communique called for additional international sanctions on Iran and urged Tehran to withdraw "its militias" from Syria and Yemen. "We renew our strong condemnation of terrorist acts carried out by Iran in the Arab region, and we reject its blatant interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries," King Salman said in an opening speech.

Iran denies the accusations. Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed cooperating with the Arab League on regional security, specifically in Iraq and Syria following the defeat of Islamic State militants there, according to Russian news agencies.

Saudi Arabia, which takes over the rotating chair of the Arab summit from Jordan, announced that the current gathering would be named the "Quds (Jerusalem) Summit", a reference to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which Arab states condemned.

Delegates pledged in the closing statement to support the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Qatar did not send a senior official to Dhahran in a sign that its 10-month-old dispute with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt is still a long way from being resolved. The four countries severed diplomatic and transport ties with Doha in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

Doha denies the charges and says the boycott is an attempt to impinge on its sovereignty. The Qatari delegation was headed by Doha's permanent representative to the Arab League, Saif bin Muqaddam al-Buainain, Qatar's state news agency said, without elaborating.