CAIRO: Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit on Monday praised the way the Lebanese group Hezbollah held out against Israel for over four weeks but faulted the Islamist group for possible carelessness.
In an interview with Reuters, Aboul Gheit was more critical of the Israeli response to a Hezbollah raid into Israel on July 12, the incident which preceded Israeli air raids and ground attacks which drove 1 million people from their homes.
He said the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah was inconclusive militarily and its political consequences might not be evident for weeks or months.
He described as hasty, violent and irresponsible the Israeli offensive, which killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians and failed to destroy Hezbollah. It [Israeli behavior] led to the difficulties that everybody is facing, he said.
On Hezbollah, he said: They conducted themselves in a manner that showed their ability to resist and they fought with honor … but the result after all is a disaster for Lebanon.
In the first phase of the fighting, President Hosni Mubarak questioned the judgment of Palestinian and Lebanese guerrilla groups, saying they should count the cost of their actions.
Abul-Gheit repeated that argument on Monday, saying that Hezbollah should have been careful if it had known that Israel was waiting for a pretext to attack the guerrillas.
The minister acknowledged the strength of popular sympathy for Hezbollah in the Arab and Muslim world but said that as part of a government his job was to work for peace and stability.
People feel the Muslim world is subject to the use of force all the time, that only Muslims are being killed … If an Israeli soldier or two or 10 [are killed], then the focus is the loss of life of an Israeli.
How about the hundreds and hundreds of Lebanese children who have been lost? There is a feeling of deep anger that the West jumps and attacks this part of the world, he said.
In his public statements during the Lebanese conflict, Mubarak repeatedly said the root cause was failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while the Bush administration said conflict stemmed from the Hezbollah operation on July 12.
Abul-Gheit said he saw indications the United States was coming around to Egypt s view, which is shared by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments friendly towards Washington.
The Americans are coming progressively to understand that we have to go to the root causes of this problem, which is the Palestinian problem. It is not terrorism, as terrorism is a reflection of the malaise that we are all suffering, he said.
Abul-Gheit said the priority in Lebanon must be a quick Israeli withdrawal so that the conflict does not resume.
A ceasefire came into effect on Monday morning but the truce is fragile. Both sides could easily find reasons to attack, Hezbollah on the grounds that the Israelis are occupying Lebanese territory, the Israelis on the grounds that Hezbollah is receiving new supplies of weapons.
We have to push the process forward at a very fast pace, because allowing the Israelis to remain in the south, in the areas which have been occupied, would possibly trigger reactions on the part of Hezbollah, Abul-Gheit said.