From Arab Leaders, Sympathy for Civilians but Not Hezbollah

By Andy Mosher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 18, 2006

BAGHDAD, July 17 -- Nearly a week of fighting in Israel and Lebanon has prompted the two countries' Arab neighbors to express broad support for the civilians caught in the path of Israel's military assault and a measure of anger over the Hezbollah attack that triggered it.

In comments, news conferences and official statements, leaders from throughout the Arab Middle East have voiced concern over the plight of the people of Lebanon and their government, as well as for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the focus of an Israeli operation that is now ending its third week. A few countries -- notably Saudi Arabia and Jordan, both U.S. allies -- have made clear that their sympathy does not extend to Hezbollah and suggested that violence that followed Wednesday's raid into Israel by the Lebanese Shiite militia could -- and should -- have been avoided.

In a statement issued Monday, the Saudi cabinet said that "some elements and groups have got loose and slipped into taking decisions on their own" but that Israel has exploited the situation "to wage a ferocious war against Lebanon and to imprison the entire Palestinian people."

The cabinet said that the Saudis supported "the legitimate and reasonable-minded national forces in Lebanon and occupied Palestine to combat these dangers to the Arab and Muslim nation." Though Hezbollah is a partner in the Lebanese government, the country's leaders have denounced last week's raid by the group.

At the same time, the statement, which was quoted by the Reuters news agency, indirectly accused the United States of prolonging the fighting in Gaza by blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to end its offensive there. "Some countries' total support for Israeli policies has hindered taking a decision," it said.

Jordan's King Abdullah, meanwhile, continued to express support for the Lebanese and Palestinians. Speaking by telephone with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Monday, he "expressed Jordan's solidarity with the Lebanese people in the face of the Israeli aggression," Jordan's state-run Petra news agency reported.

Abdullah, who over the weekend ordered more than 600 tons of aid to be sent to the Palestinians and Lebanese, has also been critical of the Hezbollah strike across Israel's border. On Friday, during a trip to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abdullah warned against "adventures that do not serve Arab interests."

Mubarak and Abdullah have called for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire in Lebanon. "Without a cease-fire, people continue to die, infrastructure is destroyed, the people are made homeless," Mubarak said during a news conference Sunday. "Therefore, I call on Israel to end the hostilities. War will not solve this."

But the reservations some governments have expressed about Hezbollah are not widely shared among the common people of the Middle East, said Abdel-Menem Mustapha, Egypt bureau chief of pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat. Mustapha said that popular support for the movement and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, is overwhelming throughout the Arab world and that the region's governments would be wise to take heed.

"The Arab street feels strong sympathy with Hezbollah and with Nasrallah," Mustapha said, "because its pride has been battered, and it is weary of decades of concessions made to Israel by Arab governments. Arab governments will have to rethink their criticism of Hezbollah if they don't want the chasm between them and their people to widen."

In Iraq, political leaders from a wide range of factions expressed unbridled support for the Palestinians and Lebanese, including Hezbollah.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, denounced Israel and warned of the dangers of escalating tensions in the region. Moqtada al-Sadr, the cleric who leads a rival Shiite group, accused Israel and its U.S. backers of "bombing and terror and flagrant aggression on the patient Lebanese people." And in an editorial Monday in the al-Mashriq newspaper, Sunni politician Hameed Abdullah called on all Iraqis to "support Nasrallah and stand by his side, and you will be closer to the angels in heaven."

Special correspondents Yasmin Mousa in Amman, Jordan, and Faiza Saleh Ambah in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company