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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Syria: 'Half men' not Arab leaders

Syria's President Bashar Assad was not referring to Arab leaders when he said that those who did not support the guerrilla group Hizbullah were "half men," his foreign minister said in an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper.

"What President Assad meant by this phrase was those individuals inside Syria and maybe outside it who threw doubts on the ability of the resistance to achieve victory," Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told the Al-Anba daily, which provided excerpts of the interview to The Associated Press. The full interview is to be published Monday.

Assad said in a televised speech Tuesday that the Lebanon war had "unveiled half men" - a reference to the opposition of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to Hizbullah's abduction of two IDF soldiers and killing of eight others on July 12 that triggered the fighting between Israel and the group.

His comments sparked a wave of anger among Arab countries and underlined the divisions among them.

Though Moallem skipped an Arab League meeting of foreign ministers on Sunday, his comments appeared to indicate that Syria, who along with Iran is a major supporter of Hizbullah, was trying to mend the split.

The Syrian president is "keen on personal and official relationships" with Arab leaders and on "Arab solidarity", Moallem told the newspaper.

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