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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Arab League official: We can't lose war over Lebanon to Iran

Arab League foreign ministers convened for an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss a plan to create a fund to rebuild Lebanon. The meeting ended with no plan, but foreign ministers said a social and economic council would convene to discuss how to fund the rebuilding.

Diplomats said Arabs want to counter the flood of money that is believed to be coming from Iran to Hezbollah to finance reconstruction projects. An estimated 15,000 apartments were destroyed and 140 bridges hit by Israeli bombardment in Lebanon, along with power and desalination plants and other key infrastructure.

"This is a war over the hearts and mind of the Lebanese, which Arabs should not lose to the Iranians this time," said a senior Arab League official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has not said where the money would come from, but Iran, which helped create Hezbollah and is its strongest supporter, is widely believed to have opened its treasury for the rebuilding program.

Iran - which is not an Arab nation and is not part of the league - denied that on Sunday. "Hezbollah is a legitimate body in Lebanon; they have their own economic resources and popular support there," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.

Syrian FM boycotts meeting

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem boycotted the Arab League meeting, Arab media reported.

Some believe that one of the reasons for Moallem's absence is his opposition to the moderate stance taken by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who, when Syria was seeking support for Hezbollah, described the group's actions against Israel, in particular the abduction of the two soldiers, as "adventurism."

Another cause for the inter-Arab tension is a speech last week by Syrian Bashar Assad, in which he accused the Lebanese government of being collaborators with Israel.

Lebanese Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, a member of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's party, said in response that Assad's statements were testimony that the Syrian president had "returned to his old habits - murder and threatening murder."

At their last meeting, shortly after the outbreak of war last month, the Arab foreign ministers traded barbs over whether Hezbollah bore any responsibility for the escalation in violence that followed its capture of the two IDF soldiers.

The Saudi foreign minister appeared to be leading a camp of ministers criticizing the guerrilla group's actions, calling them "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts."

"These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we cannot simply accept them," Saudi al-Faisal told his counterparts.

Supporting his stance were representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, delegates said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

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