Press highlights children's plight

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The Independent Online
Pro-Western Arab leaders who urged peace with Israel are being pressed to adopt a tougher response to Israel's attacks, as public opinion, which is increasingly sympathetic to the Iranian-backed Hizbollah's attacks on Israel, seeks collective Arab action.

Whether in Jordan, which has normal diplomatic ties with Israel, or in Saudi Arabia, press comment and cartoons carry a similar message. "The children of south Lebanon call upon the powerful leaders of [last month's anti-terror summit in] Sharm el Sheikh to lift their suffering,'' the London-based Al-Hayat declared.

A cartoon in the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat accused Israel's Prime Minster, Shimon Peres, of hitting Lebanese children to further his electoral chances.

Many papers highlighted the call by Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafiq el- Hariri, to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to use Cairo's 17-year-old diplomatic ties with Israel to stop the attacks. Mr Mubarak is embarrassed, because of accusations that he was naively optimistic about peace talks between Israel and Syria. Mr Mubarak, whose security forces continue to crack down on Islamic extremists, has been accused by the opposition of allowing Israel to subject the Arab people to its rule.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, has cancelled a trip to Turkey. Officially, he needed to stay in Cairo for tomorrow's emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers. Privately, diplomats say it was a gesture of support to Syria, which bitterly attacked a Turkish-Israeli accord allowing Israel to use Turkish air space and, perhaps, its bases for military training.

Powerful players like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which compete for the leadership of both the Arab and the Muslim worlds, encourage their official or semi-official media to condemn Israel's action. No paper, however, has criticised attacks against Israeli civilians by Hizbollah fighters who are referred to in most Arab media as " Lebanese resistance.''

Diplomats agree Syria holds the key to settling this round of violence, but "no single Arab nation attending tomorrow's Arab League meeting in Cairo is expected to even ask Syria to pressurise Hizbollah to halt its attacks,'' said an Egyptian official yesterday, " while Israel remains an illegal occupation force in south Lebanon.''