Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Gaza conflict: Mid-East reaction

Egyptian activists confront police during a protest in Cairo on 31 December 2008
There have been angry scenes in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in recent days

BBC reporters look at reaction in the Arab world and Iran to events in Gaza, where, after a week of airstrikes, Israeli ground forces are battling Hamas militants.

Iran's official media is full every day with news of protests, demonstrations, and condemnation of the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

There are demonstrations by students or members of the Basij (the militia arm of the Revolutionary Guards) in provinces around the country. For a time they occupied one of the British embassy compounds, and part of one of Tehran's airports.

The influential speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, has said that what Israel is doing is worse than the actions of the Nazis during the Second World War.

But in practical terms, Iran's response is more guarded. There's no sign that Tehran has tried to get its allies in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah, to restart rocket attacks on Israel. Certainly no sign of any military activity from Iran's close ally Syria.

The rhetoric suits President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as he runs for re-election in June. And fits with his aim of radicalising Arab and Muslim opinion.

At the same time Iran makes little attempt to deny Israel's claims that it provides Hamas with arms, money and training. Seen from Tehran, the battle for Gaza is another instalment in Iran's strategy to increase its power across the region.


Lebanese reaction to events in Gaza has been largely conditioned by fears that the conflict there could erupt into another bout of violence between Israel and the militant Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, as happened in 2006 with devastating results.

It was to relieve Israeli pressure on Gaza that Hezbollah staged a border raid in July 2006, triggering an all-out onslaught by Israel which lasted more than a month, and from which Lebanon is still struggling to recover.

But so far, despite fiery rhetoric, there has been no sign that Hezbollah plans to stage a repeat.

Instead, the movement has staged two big rallies to denounce the Israeli actions against Gaza.

Its leader, Hassan Nasrullah, angrily accused moderate Arab leaders of colluding with the Israelis to stifle Hamas. He asked his followers to be on the alert in case of Israeli attack.

Other groups mounted much smaller demonstrations outside the Egyptian and American embassies and UN offices.

The Lebanese national unity government declared 31 December a day of mourning for Gaza, and donated a symbolic $1m (700,000) in support.


Cairo has seen some angry scenes over the past few days. Activists defied a ban on demonstrations and took to the streets shouting slogans in support of Hamas and accusing President Hosni Mubarak's administration of collusion with Israel.

The government has rejected any suggestion that it gave the Israelis a green light to attack Hamas. It has publicly condemned the Israeli operation in Gaza and called for an immediate ceasefire.

That is in broad terms how the conflict is viewed in Egypt between the government and its critics. But there are those who believe that the opposition's suspicion is not totally unjustified.

Cairo has never been a friend of the Hamas regime in Gaza, and the government media has accused Hamas of acting irresponsibly by refusing to extend the truce with Israel which expired last month.

Commentators in state newspapers allege that Hamas takes its orders from Iran and its allies (ie Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon) who, they say, are using the Palestinians to further their own radical agendas.

In the eyes of the nationalist media though, the Hamas gunmen on the streets of Gaza are hailed as heroes and martyrs.


The Syrian government has strongly condemned the assault and called for an immediate ceasefire, a lifting of the blockade and the opening of border crossings, especially Rafah.

It went further than most Arab states by ending its indirect peace talks with Israel, brokered by Turkey. Damascus says Israel cannot be a credible negotiating partner when it is launching an attack against fellow Arab Palestinians.

At the League, Syria's president called for an emergency Arab summit to help stop the attack. The Syrian government organised street demonstrations throughout the country, and allowed almost daily demonstrations in front of the Egyptian embassy, an Arab country seen widely in the Arab world as failing to help the people of Gaza while they are under attack.

The anger is shared at both government and street level. People here are glued to TV channels in their homes and in cafes, or tuning to radio stations for updates. The Syrian Arab News Agency is sending messages to mobile phones with news updates, especially the number of civilian casualties. Donation campaigns have been launched to help support the people of Gaza.

Iranian and Russian officials are visiting Syria, which hosts exiled leaders of Hamas, looking for solutions. But Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal has repeatedly announced that Hamas cannot accept a solution that does not stop the Israeli attacks and lift the siege on Gaza.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also due in the Syrian capital tomorrow to talk with President Bashar al-Assad, who has influence on Mr Meshaal and the rest of the Hamas leadership in Damascus. The details of Mr Sarkozy's proposals for a ceasefire are not clear.

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