Israeli Crackdown Unites Hard-Liners,
Moderates in Muslim World

Published: Apr 24, 2001

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Calls for holy war against Israel reverberated Tuesday at a conference in Tehran, where Islamic militants were joined by delegates from Muslim nations who until now had eschewed calls for confrontation with Israel.

The two-day conference opened in the Iranian capital amid growing anger in the Arab world against Israel over escalating violence in the Middle East.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, often viewed as a voice of moderation but sounding increasingly frustrated since hard-liner Ariel Sharon became Israeli prime minister, blamed Israel for the increasing unrest.

"This aggressive behavior carries within itself dangerous risks to all the peoples of the region, including the Israeli people, and threatens the stability and security of the region because violence will only breed more violence," Mubarak said in a nationally televised speech Tuesday on the holiday marking the return of war-lost territory to Egypt under the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

In Lebanon, about 50 Palestinians staged a sit-in Tuesday to mark the start of the Tehran conference, burning effigies of Sharon and President Bush outside the entrance to the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp.

At the Tehran conference, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, warned Israel to expect attacks from Palestinian extremists.

"The fully armed Zionist military should wait for surprise attacks by Palestinian resistance groups," Nasrallah said to applause. "Victory belongs to us."

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, led the military effort to drive Israel out of southern Lebanon last May after an 18-year occupation and has continued attacks on Israel since.

"The only option is jihad," or holy war, Abdullah Ramadan Shalah, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, told conference participants.

"Muslim countries must unite against Israel and force it to recognize the rights of Palestinians," he said. Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian group Hamas, which also attended the conference, have conducted numerous anti-Israeli attacks.

Among those attending was well-known Palestinian guerrilla Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who in 1969 hijacked a TWA plane to Damascus and was captured while trying to hijack an El Al flight from Amsterdam to New York on Sept. 6, 1970. She was released in Britain in exchange for more than 300 passengers who had been hijacked in American, British and Swiss airlines and taken to the Middle East, an episode that touched off the 1970 Black September war between Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization inside Jordan.

Israel has been shaken by a series of bombings, including two this week. Israeli-Palestinian clashes since September have killed 411 people on the Palestinian side and 70 on the Israeli side.

Until now, most Muslim countries had distanced themselves from Iran, which considers Israel its archenemy, in its all-out support for a Palestinian uprising. But parliamentary leaders from more than 30 Islamic countries - including Egypt and Jordan, which both have diplomatic relations with Israel - are attending the Tehran conference.

In Washington on Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that although he was not aware specifically of the meeting in Tehran, the United States was concerned about groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that participated.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opened the conference with a call for the rest of the Muslim world to support the Palestinians, even if that meant defying the United States and the West.

"The strength of Islamic resistance lies in its ability to wreak crushing blows against Israeli actions, and not in relying on diplomatic efforts and mediation of others," Khamenei said.