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Hezbollah's resistance made an Arab hero
Helena Independent Record
By The Associated Press
August 13, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Despite the terrible toll in death and destruction in Lebanon, even enemies and critics say the stature of Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has risen dramatically from his guerrillas fighting toe-to-toe with the Israeli army.

Some have even taken to comparing the radical Shiite Muslim cleric to the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who enjoyed wide popularity in the Middle East for standing up to the West and pushing for Arab unity.

"Hassan Nasrallah has won militarily and politically and has become a new leader like Nasser," Lebanese lawmaker Walid Jumblatt, a harsh critic of Hezbollah's alliance with Iran and Syria, said in a television interview.

Hezbollah was already popular among Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiites, mainly from the armed struggle that led Israel to end an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon but also because of the group's network of social services and charities for the poor.

Now, Israel's ferocious bombing has rallied many more Lebanese around Hezbollah, regardless of politics or religion, said Gen. Antoine Lahd, who led a now defunct militia that helped Israeli troops police the occupation zone before they withdrew six years ago.

Beirut's leading newspaper, An-Nahar, has long been critical of Hezbollah — especially its harassing rocket attacks on Israel before the war began — but it urged all Lebanese to stand behind Nasrallah's group to achieve victory against the Jewish state.

"When we look around we find in this battle two commanders: On the battlefield Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, and on the political and diplomatic front Prime Minister Fuad Saniora," An-Nahar executive editor Edmond Saab wrote.

Ironically, Saniora — a staunch foe of Syria, which along with Iran is a strong supporter of Hezbollah — also has seen his fortunes rise at home, for getting Lebanon's fractious politicians to work together and for resisting U.S. pressure to accept a truce more favorable to Israel.

But in the wider world, it is Nasrallah's popularity that has shot up, among both his fellow Shiites and among Sunnis in the Middle East and with Muslims elsewhere.

Arab Americans rallied outside the White House on Saturday waving Lebanese flags and chanting "Israel get out of Lebanon now." Earlier in the week in Moscow, Muslims carried a big picture of Nasrallah and waved Hezbollah flags outside the Israeli embassy.

Some of the fiercest sentiment in support of the militant Shiite cleric has erupted during anti-Israel and anti-U.S. protests in predominantly Sunni countries like Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait — all key U.S. allies in the region. Demonstrators have voiced outrage at their leaders for failing to back Hezbollah and Lebanon.

"Arab majesties, excellencies and highnesses, we spit on you," read one banner at near daily rallies in Cairo that have lashed out at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for what is seen as his failure to support Nasrallah and his fighters.

A delegation of Egyptian intellectuals, actors and artists visited Beirut last week to show solidarity with Lebanon and express support for Hezbollah. "The resistance (Hezbollah) will stay and the occupation will go," said Hussein Fahmi, one of Egypt's leading actors.

Protests have even broken out among the normally quiet Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, where demonstrations are rare — though the demonstrators have been cautious not to criticize the ruling family, which initially was highly critical of Hezbollah for its July 12 raid inside Israel that killed eight soldiers and captured two.

In Kuwait, thousands of people have taken to the streets in several demonstrations — two in front of the U.S. Embassy — to protest the Israeli offensive. Protesters held Nasrallah posters and Hezbollah's yellow flags and burned American and Israeli flags.

Abdul-Mohsen Jamal, a Shiite former lawmaker and columnist, wrote in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas on Saturday that even though Nasrallah had no military training "he succeeded in making the army of Israel a ‘joke' for the world to laugh at."

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