Arab World Outraged over Civilian Deaths in Qana
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Arab reaction to today's air strike in the Lebanese village of Qana has been swift. Many Arab countries are resolute in condemning Israel for today's attack while also calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.
NPR's Deborah Amos joins us from the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Deb, first up, what is Syrian president Bashar al-Assad saying about today's deadly attacks?
DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
Deb, today was the first time he has made a public statement since the crisis began next door. And he called the attack state terrorism. And it was interesting that he decided to speak today, as he is having a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister.
It was really hard to tell the difference between pro-American Arab regimes and anti-American Arab regimes. They were all essentially saying the same kind of things today.
ELLIOTT: Talk about the reaction from moderate countries in the region - Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia - countries that are usually aligned with the United States. They've come out very strongly today against what has been happening.
AMOS: Well, let's talk about Jordan and Egypt. These are the two Arab states that have signed peace treaties with Israel. Jordan was very tough. The King called it an ugly crime. He accused Israel of targeting civilians. Egypt's President Mubarak said that this time the Israelis had gone too far. What you have to remember, Deb, is this is not the first time that this region has seen this in Qana. This is Qana II for everybody out here. In 1996 the Israelis hit civilians in the very same town, killed more than 100 people. In Lebanon it's known as the Qana massacre.
ELLIOTT: Deb, Egypt's foreign minister is in Damascus. Do you know what they're talking about?
AMOS: What we do know is he had a meeting with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. There's been no details of that meeting except to say that both countries were working for an immediate ceasefire. This is a position that Egypt has taken. The U.S. has asked the Egyptians to pressure the Syrians to reign in Hezbollah. But it is hard to imagine that the Israeli air strike on Qana was not a part of those discussions today and that will make pressure very hard on the Syrians as Hezbollah's popularity rises and Arab anger rises along with those pictures.
ELLIOTT: This story plays differently in the media from the Arab world than in Western media. What are the Arab media saying about today's events?
AMOS: Well, I can see Arab television and it looks very different from English language broadcasts. For one thing, Arab reporters are live on the scene and what you've seen is some television reporters break down in tears, as well as some of the rescue workers. The pictures have been very graphic, Deb. It looks very different from what you're seeing on your television screens. Dead bodies, dead children. It's been pretty grizzly to watch. And certainly here in the Syrian capital it is all that anybody is talking about, what they've seen on television.
ELLIOTT: Deb, what you do think that means for public opinion there and the way that people view Hezbollah and this battle?
AMOS: Deb, Hezbollah's popularity has been skyrocketing in the Arab world. One of the things that I think Americans don't understand, because they are not seeing his speeches in full on television as people see them here, he is different than Arab leaders. He speaks very forcefully and straightforwardly. Sometimes he even makes jokes at his own expense. In a television address yesterday he reached out to all Lebanese. He spoke specifically of Christians. He talked about Hezbollah soldiers. He said I kiss their hands and their feet and their heads. And people here are transfixed when he comes on television. They follow his every word. And that is only adding to his popularity.
ELLIOTT: NPR's Deborah Amos in Damascus. Thank you so much.
AMOS: Thank you, Deb.
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