A 22-nation Arab summit tackling the region's crises, despite splits over Iran and Turkey, was cut back to a single day Monday due to the absence of the heavyweight leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stayed at home because of "a busy domestic schedule" while Saudi King Salman's no-show was due to "health reasons", an Arab League source told AFP.
Opening the talks, Egypt's premier Sherif Ismail called in the name of Sisi for "an Arab strategy of struggle against terrorism".
"We must recast the religious language that terrorist elements exploit to their own ends to sow terror, death and destruction," he said.
Terrorists were deflecting Islam's message of peace, he added.
Mauritania's head of state Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is hosting the summit, also slammed the "blind violence of terrorists" as well as foreign interventions that feed instability in the Arab world.
The summit, originally scheduled for two full days, is to focus primarily on security and on plans for a joint force across a region fraught with tension, notably in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and the Palestinian territories.
Arab nations endorsed the idea of an anti-terror force at their last summit in March 2015 in Egypt but have since failed to agree on setting it up.
Continuing splits over the question led Morocco last February to give up plans to host this year's Arab League summit.
And pre-summit ministerial talks showed there were also sharp divisions over attitudes towards tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as over Turkey's incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraq refuses to condemn Iran while Saudi Arabia refuses to take a stand against Turkey.
In Nouakchott for the talks was Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by The Hague-based International Criminal Court.
Also present were the heads of state of Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen, Comoros and Djibouti as well as the premiers of Lebanon and Libya.
It is the first Arab League summit hosted by Mauritania since it joined the organisation in 1973.
The Mauritanian president also called for fresh efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that regional instability would continue until the issue was settled.
Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of the summit on Saturday urged a "definitive solution" to the conflict and welcomed a French and Egyptian initiative to help revive dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
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