Egypt says Islamist group fought with honour

CAIRO (Reuters) — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on Monday praised the way Hizbollah held out against Israel for over four weeks but faulted the Islamist group for possible carelessness.

In an interview with Reuters, Abul Gheit was more critical of the Israeli response to a Hizbollah raid into Israel on July 12, the incident which preceded Israeli air raids and ground attacks which drove one million people from their homes. He said the monthlong war between Israel and Hizbollah was inconclusive militarily and its political consequences might not be evident for weeks or months. He described as hasty, violent and irresponsible the Israeli offensive, which killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians and failed to destroy Hizbollah. “It [Israeli behaviour] led to the difficulties that everybody is facing,” he said.

On Hizbollah, he said: “They conducted themselves in a manner that showed their ability to resist and they fought with honour… but the result after all is a disaster for Lebanon.” In the first phase of the fighting, President Hosni Mubarak questioned the judgement of Palestinian and Lebanese groups, saying they should count the cost of their actions.

Abul Gheit repeated that argument on Monday, saying that “Hizbollah should have been careful” if it had known that Israel was waiting for a pretext to attack the fighters.

The minister acknowledged the strength of popular sympathy for Hizbollah in the Arab and Muslim world but said that as part of a government his job was to work for peace and stability.

“People feel the Muslim world is subject to the use of force all the time, that only Muslims are being killed… If an Israeli soldier or two or 10 [are killed], then the focus is the loss of life of an Israeli.

“How about the hundreds and hundreds of Lebanese children who have been lost? There is a feeling of deep anger that the West jumps and attacks this part of the world,” he said. In his public statements during the Lebanese conflict, Mubarak repeatedly said the root cause was failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while the Bush administration said conflict stemmed from the Hizbollah operation on July 12. Abul Gheit said he saw indications the United States was coming around to Egypt’s view, which is shared by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments friendly towards Washington.

“The Americans are coming progressively to understand that we have to go to the root causes of this problem, which is the Palestinian problem. It is not terrorism — terrorism is a reflection of the malaise that we are all suffering,” he said. British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday welcomed the UN Security Council’s approval of a resolution calling for an end to the hostilities and said he planned to visit the Middle East soon to search for ways to address the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. “With this resolution now adopted, we must work to address the underlying root causes of this conflict,” Blair said. Abul Gheit said the priority in Lebanon must be a quick Israeli withdrawal so that the conflict does not resume. A ceasefire came into effect on Monday morning but the truce is fragile. Both sides could easily find reasons to attack, Hizbollah on the grounds that the Israelis are occupying Lebanese territory, the Israelis on the grounds that Hizbollah is receiving new supplies of weapons. “We have to push the process forward at a very fast pace — because allowing the Israelis to remain in the south, in the areas which have been occupied, would possibly trigger reactions on the part of Hizbollah,” Abul Gheit said.

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