Many Arabs Applaud Hezbollah

By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 30, 2006

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 29 -- Ever since the seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah sparked an Israeli offensive in Lebanon, Huda Fatani has set her alarm for 3:15 each morning, gotten up to perform her ablutions, then spent more than an hour on her knees praying for the Lebanese militia.

Despite her grueling days at the King Fahd Hospital, where she works as a hematologist, Fatani said this was the least she could do to support the group fighting "on behalf of all Arabs."

Hezbollah's fight with Israel, viewed widely here as a battle between the militia's David and the Jewish state's Goliath, has solidified support for the militant group and left U.S. credibility, already at an all-time low, in tatters. The conflict has highlighted how far apart the United States and the majority of Arabs stand on the most visceral conflict in the Middle East.

Arabs see the U.S. refusal to press Israel, its ally, for a cease-fire as a clear bias toward the Jewish state and against Arabs. They also believe that U.S. delivery of weapons to Israel makes the United States complicit in the deaths of civilians.

"The Palestinian government was kidnapped and jailed, Palestinians were being starved by Israel, and the United States did not object," said Fatani, 42, a mother of four. "But when Hezbollah captures soldiers to release prisoners, and Lebanon is attacked by Israel, instead of telling it to stop, the U.S. rushes bombs and missiles so it can kill more Palestinians and Lebanese."

The United States has blamed Hezbollah for provoking Israel, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said any peace plan should deal with the underlying problems causing violence in the region, a reference to Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah, an armed group potentially stronger than the Lebanese army.

But many Arabs say they think the United States has the equation backwards, that it is Israel's occupation of Palestinian and Lebanese land, with tacit U.S. support, that fuels the conflict.

The United States' Arab allies -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt -- initially blamed Hezbollah for the violence, calling its seizure of the soldiers miscalculated adventures. But a high civilian death toll, widespread destruction in Lebanon and strong popular support for Hezbollah have forced a shift in their stance.

Egypt, one of a few Arab states with relations with Israel, said it was trying to resolve the crisis through contacts with the Jewish state, according to the Akhbar al-Yawm newspaper in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia dispatched its top diplomats to Washington to press for a cease-fire, and when that failed, issued a strongly worded statement warning of the possibility of a wider regional conflict if Israel refused to exchange Arab land for peace and relations with Arab states.

On Tuesday, the Saudi king pledged $1.5 billion to support Lebanon's economy and fund rebuilding efforts.

Jordan sent a field hospital and medical supplies to Beirut this week, and its monarch, King Abdullah, has said he would "employ all of Jordan's capabilities to reach a cease-fire" and reduce the suffering caused by the "continued Israeli aggression.

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