Alliance with Israel, Iraq sanctions fuel Arab hatred of U.S.

DAMASCUS, Syria - A morgue assistant pulls out drawers holding the mutilated corpses of Palestinians killed in clashes with Israelis. Doctors pummel the chest of a dead Palestinian in a desperate attempt to revive him. The body of an infant, swathed in bloodied blankets, held by a grieving parent. These raw images - aired almost daily on Arab television since the Palestinian-Israeli clashes erupted a year ago - haven't lost the power to touch the hearts of Arab viewers. Indeed, they have fed a buildup of Arab anger - not only against Israel but also against the United States, its chief ally, already resented for imposing 11 years of sanctions and carrying out repeated airstrikes on Iraq. That anger provides a potential base of support for the militants, who can use it to keep governments from cracking down on them. The outrage also has left many Arabs grappling with conflicting emotions over the Sept. 11 suicide attacks in the United States. Some governments - while decrying the deaths at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania - have echoed murmurs in the streets that the United States brought violence on itself by angering Arabs. Others have made it clear they want to be sure U.S. retaliation doesn't target nations like Iraq or groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, who are heroes to some Arabs because of their anti-Israel stance.

"We feel outraged by what happened in the United States, but we want the world to feel the same about the daily Israeli killings of Palestinians, the demolishing of houses and the humiliation of the people," said Wafa Mohammed, a shop owner in Jordan. "If the United States had sympathized with the Arabs, the destruction that took place in the United States wouldn't have happened," said Mohammed Tohami, a 22-year-old Egyptian frame maker. "There's a feeling among Arabs that the United States is totally responsible for what's happening in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," said Imad Shueibi, a Syrian political analyst. The Palestinian-Israeli clashes began one year ago today. The spark, according to the Palestinians - or the pretext, according to Israel - was a visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the holiest and most disputed site in Jerusalem, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Palestinians Haram as-Sharif. Since then, 642 Palestinians and 177 Israelis have been killed. Many of the Israeli casualties were civilians who died in Palestinian suicide attacks against discos, restaurants, markets and train stations or shootings with machine-guns and mortars. The resulting resentment cannot be ignored as President Bush, who has threatened to punish Afghanistan's Islamic rulers harboring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, assembles U.S. forces for a retaliatory strike. Bin Laden has portrayed himself as the champion of Muslims and Palestinians. Arab leaders have urged the United States - which so far has offered little public proof of bin Laden's involvement in the attacks against hasty military action until the culprits are identified without a shred of doubt. "What I don't stop telling the United States is: don't rush into it. Wait until your investigation is completed," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told the French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview last week. Mubarak offered Egypt's cooperation in hunting down the assassins, calling for an anti-terrorism coalition under U.N. auspices. But he warned any U.S. retaliation resulting in the deaths of innocent people would fuel greater hatred of the United States and any allies who participate in the anti-terrorism coalition. Syrian President Bashar Assad and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh also said the best way to fight terrorism is through an international effort under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council. United Arab Emirates President Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has told Bush the Emirates is ready to cooperate to fight terrorism.

But at the same time, he said, the United States and the international community must examine all forms of terrorism - and "must stop the Israeli terrorist attacks in occupied Palestinian lands." Adding to the pressure on the mostly secular Arab governments are fatwas, or religious edicts issued by Muslim clergymen warning the governments against joining the anti-terrorism coalition. Al-Azhar Ulama Front, a group of hard-line Muslim clerics in Egypt, said in a fatwa issued last Friday that Arab and Muslim countries should be alert to the "Jewish, Zionist" scheme being created in the name of fighting terrorism "and that has been prepared to attack national and Islamic forces in different countries." Such words have struck a chord among many Muslims, who believe the U.S. campaign is really a war on their religion. "The infidel and evil U.S. military buildup in the region is an attempt not to target one person only or a specific Islamic or Arab country, but in fact ... it is a crusade targeting our religion," Iraqi preacher Bakir Abdul-Razak said. "We say, 'No,' to those who have gathered their forces to fight the (Muslim) nations," he said. "By God's will, the Americans will not have the upper hand."

Associated Press

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