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ISTANBUL: A major summit aimed at overcoming differences in the Muslim world condemned Iran on Friday for what it called supporting terrorism and meddling in the affairs of other countries.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who had been at the two-day Istanbul conference along with over 30 other heads of state and government from Muslim countries, did not attend the closing meeting in protest.

“The (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) conference deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the states of the region and other member states, including Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Somalia, and its continued support for terrorism,” said the summit’s final communique.

It also “condemned Hezbollah for conducting terrorist activities in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen and for supporting terrorist movements and groups undermining the security and stability of OIC member states”.

The communique stressed the need for “cooperative relations” between Iran and other Muslim countries, including refraining from the use or threat of force.

Both Turkey, which has assumed the three-year rotating presidency of the OIC, and Saudi Arabia are part of the US-led coalition against the militant Islamic State group in Syria and are also opponents of President Bashar al Assad, a stance that has put them at odds with Iran, an ally of the Syrian leader.

Iran is also allied with the Houthi movement in Yemen, which has been battling forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed president in a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people since March 2015.

Rouhani’s call

The communique came a day after President Rouhani urged summit delegates to avoid sending out divisive messages.

“No message which would fuel division in the Islamic community should come out of the conference,” said Mr Rouhani, according to the Iranian state television.

The Arab League declared Iran’s ally Hezbollah a “terrorist” group in March after Gulf kingdoms did the same earlier in the month over the movement’s support for the Damascus regime in Syria’s war.

While the summit marked one of Istanbul’s most significant gatherings of heads of state for years, some high-profile leaders like Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi were notable by their absence.

Turkey’s relations with Cairo have still not recovered from the 2013 ousting of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, a close ally of Ankara, while ties with Amman are being tested by differences over Syria.

President Rouhani is due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Saturday.

Sectarian divide

The two-day summit concluded with a pledge to combat terrorism and overcome sectarian divide. President Erdogan, who chaired the final session, lamented the fact that Muslim countries who are “the heirs of a civilisation that was built on columns of peace and justice are being remembered more for wars, armed conflict, sectarianism and terrorism”.

“As Muslims, we cannot overcome our difficulties without achieving unity in spite of our differences,” said the Turkish leader at the closing ceremony.

He also said that the establishment of an international arbitration body in Istanbul was part of the OIC 2025 action plan and welcomed a decision reached a day earlier to create a Turkey-based police coordination centre aimed at increasing cooperation against terrorism.

The summit expressed the hope that negotiations that started in Geneva on April 13 would contribute to resolving the Syrian crisis as soon as possible.

The conference pledged to combat terrorism in all its forms and condemned IS for its use of chemical weapons in Iraq.

On the sidelines of the summit, Turkey and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum to create a bilateral cooperation council. The two countries are aligned in their support for rebel factions opposed to the government of the Syrian president.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2016