Lebanon ambassador sparks anger over blog

Britain's ambassador to Lebanon has sparked anger in Israel by praising a man regarded by many as the spiritual mentor of Hezbollah, it emerged today.

An obituary to Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah - entitled "The Passing of Decent Men" - has been taken down from ambassador Frances Guy's internet blog after attracting criticism.

The Foreign Office today said the article was removed "after mature consideration".

Fadlallah, who died last week, was regarded as a key figure in the founding of Hezbollah in 1982, but both he and the militant group denied he was its spiritual leader.

He was revered as one of Shia Islam's highest religious authorities and won support from many Muslims for his anti-American stance and his support for the Islamic revolution in Iran. But he condemned the 9/11 terror attacks and had relatively progressive views on the role of women in society.

Hezbollah's military wing is proscribed in the UK as a terrorist organisation. It is thought to have been behind a spate of suicide bomb attacks on US forces and kidnappings of Westerners including Terry Waite and John McCarthy in the 1980s, though it has denied involvement.

More recently it has become a powerful political and military force in Lebanon and was at the centre of a war with Israel in 2006 after kidnapping and killing Israeli troops.

Ms Guy's obituary described Fadlallah as the politician in Lebanon she enjoyed meeting most.

"When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person," she wrote. "That for me is the real effect of a true man of religion; leaving an impact on everyone he meets, no matter what their faith.

"Sheikh Fadlallah passed away yesterday. Lebanon is a lesser place the day after but his absence will be felt well beyond Lebanon's shores.

"The world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths, acknowledging the reality of the modern world and daring to confront old constraints. May he rest in peace."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying: "Sheikh Fadlallah was behind hostage-taking, suicide bombings and other sorts of wanton violence, but Ambassador Guy said he was a man of peace, and Ambassador Guy is an honourable woman."

A Foreign Office spokesman in London today said: "After mature consideration, we took the blog down."

* blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/guy/