Beheading condemned by Hamas and Hizbollah

Two Islamic militant groups, Hezbollah and Hamas, issued strongly worded condemnations yesterday of the videotaped beheading of American civilian Nick Berg in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab governments to criticise the slaying and newspapers in the region, which initially gave little coverage to the gruesome video, began to excoriate the al-Qa'ida affiliated killers.

But Arab governments and Islamic militant groups, most of which have spoken out repeatedly about the abuse of the prisoners, initially kept silent. On Thursday, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the militant Palestinian group Hamas, labelled terrorist organizations by the US, said the slaying was un-Islamic.

In a statement, Hezbollah called Berg's killing an "extremely brutal and cruel" act.

"Hezbollah condemns this grisly act which has caused great harm to Islam and to Muslims by this group which falsely claims to belong to the religion of mercy, compassion and genuine human values."

Of the killers shown cutting off Berg's head, Hezbollah said: "This group belongs to the Pentagon school - the school of killings, occupation, crime, torture and immoral practices as exposed by the big scandal in the [US] occupation prisons."

Osama Hamdan, Hamas' representative in Lebanon, denounced both Berg's killers and US President Bush in the same breath. "I condemn this brutal act and sympathise with the family of the slain American man," he said.

Both Hezbollah and Hamas said the beheading hurt Arab causes, and predicted that the United States would use it to turn attention away from the prisoner-abuse scandal.

The other Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, declined to comment on Berg's slaying. The group's Lebanese representative, Abu Imad Rifai, said: "I cannot comment because I am not sure of its authenticity. I didn't see the man's body."

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