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Hezbollah inspires pride and disgust

Arabs are divided on actions of militant group

BEIRUT -- When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon six years ago, the Arab world showered Hezbollah with praise. Today, Arabs are deeply divided about the militant group, with many vilifying it for provoking Israel's attack on Lebanon.

Backers, however, voice pride in Hezbollah's ability to fight back, landing missiles deep inside Israel.

The division springs from a reality that did not exist six years ago -- the rise to power of Shi'ites in Iraq and increasing tension between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

In 2000, Hezbollah was held up by fellow Shi'ites as well as Sunnis and some Christians as a model for resisting Israel.

Arabs on the whole have felt a historic frustration over their inability to defeat Israel. Hezbollah's missile strikes deep inside Israel generate pride because they inflicted pain on an opponent with clear military superiority.

There is also a general reluctance among Arabs to criticize Hezbollah for fear of appearing to side with Israel.

Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, represent ``what is left of honor and dignity in times of submission," Sajed al-Abdali, a Kuwaiti and Sunni Islamist, wrote in a column yesterday in Al-Rai Al-Amm newspaper.

Abdali said ``the cowards" who disapprove of Hezbollah should ``just stay silent."

In Iraq, despite the raging sectarian conflict, Sunni university professor Mohammed Kanan al-Obeidi called Nasrallah ``a remarkable leader in our time although he has links with Iran."

``By striking Israel, he has restored the glories of the old Muslims," said Obeidi, 40.

The Sunni minority in Iraq, which ran the country when Saddam Hussein was in power, is deeply suspicious of the majority Shi'ites now in power, fearing they will be puppets of Iran -- a Persian nation that is overwhelmingly Shi'ite and run by a theocracy.

In Bahrain, Sunnis and Shi'ites set aside their differences to march in protest of Israel's attacks on Lebanon .

``Beloved Nasrallah, hit Tel Aviv!" chanted the crowd, estimated at around 10,000 people.

But in Jordan, housewife Layla Nasser said Nasrallah's men acted with folly when they crossed into Israel and captured two soldiers, igniting the current conflict.

``[Nasrallah] reminds me of Saddam Hussein, who dragged Iraq into several similar adventures which have led to the complete destruction of Iraq," she said.

``Nasrallah has done the same and is the cause of Lebanon's destruction," she added. ``He is arrogant and irresponsible."

Munching on a salad at a Beirut restaurant, Lina, a Shi'ite banker who declined to give her last name for fear of Hezbollah retaliation, said the group had no right to drag the nation into war.

``In 2000, I supported it because it was a real resistance," she said. ``But now I don't, and I don't see any heroism in what it's done."

Henry Kairouz, a 48-year-old businessman, said Hezbollah's actions were ``cowardly."

``If Hezbollah considers itself a player in Lebanese politics and the government, why didn't it hand over the hostages to the Lebanese government to negotiate their fate?" he asked.

Hezbollah's political strength in Lebanon threatens the government's hold on power .

Some Arabs who oppose Hezbollah say they feel torn when they see the damage and loss of life resulting from Israel's offensive.

In Dubai, Gilbert Gholam, 31, a Lebanese telecommunications worker, said he had no admiration for Hezbollah or its attacks.

But Gholam said he was appalled by Israel's response and the lack of a global outcry.

``The Israelis aren't hurting Hezbollah. They're killing civilians and they are destroying Lebanon," Gholam said.

Mahmoud Ahmed, a 30-year-old Egyptian working for a cable TV provider in Dubai, declared a pox on both Israel and Hezbollah.

``I disagree with both sides," Ahmed said, puffing on a cigarette. ``They're killing innocent people. Who can agree with this?"

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