Egypt undergoes a change of heart

MIDDLE EAST IN TURMOIL
ADEL DARWISH

Israel's shelling of Lebanon has prompted a change of heart from Egypt, a country that has enjoyed normal relations with the Jewish State for 18 years.

In an Egyptian newspaper Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, head of the Azhar mosque and university - the country's official church - described Hamas suicide bombers as "martyrs".

The cleric's remarks comprised a U-turn from earlier statements he had made but were nevertheless recognised as representing the "official'' view.

The moderate head of Azhar criticised "the criminal Zionist regime [of Israel] and [the] clear support of the arrogant government of the USA", and called on Hizbollah "to resist this invasion until [the Israelis] become regretful of their criminal actions".

His comments were interpreted by Iranian commentators as encouraging Hizbollah to reject any ceasefire proposals unless they involve Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.

Support for Lebanon also came from Iran's foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Vellayati, who sent a message to the headquarters of the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Jeddah, urging the Muslim world to mobilise aid for the Lebanese people. And many Saudi-owned newspapers joined in the condemnation of Israel's aggression against "innocent children" in Lebanon, justifying Hizbollah attacks on Israel as a "legitimate struggle".

A number of analysts saw the French and American ceasefire proposals as raising the political profile of Hizbollah to a status beyond what the extremists group had expected.

"Israel's operation in Lebanon has only succeeded in turning Hizbollah from a Lebanese militia into an essential partner in the wider peaceful settlement in the Middle East,'' the veteran exiled Iranian commentator Amir Tahiri wrote in the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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