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  Updated: August 15, 2006

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Nasrallah - new hero of the Islamic world

Sender: Nurrudin Ikmal
By: Ezzedin Said Ė JERUSALEM

The Islamic world has a new hero. In Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is being feted as the man who took on mighty Israel - and is winning.
Even in London, some marchers demanding a ceasefire in the Lebanon conflict on Saturday carried placards emblazoned with portraits of the charismatic chief of the Shiite militia that captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12 in a bid to force an exchange of prisoners with the Jewish state.
Nasrallah may not have predicted the ferocity of the response to his group's actions, but in the month since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unleashed his air force against Lebanon Hezbollah has continued to rain rocket fire across the border into Israel.
Some of the young London marchers chanted slogans urging Nasrallah to target Tel Aviv with his missiles, a wish echoed at demonstrations across the Muslim world.
In Morocco, they shouted "Well-loved Nasrallah, destroy Tel Aviv!" in Casablanca on Sunday, as well as "We are all Hezbollah, we are all Nasrallah!" and "Allah, give victory to Hezbollah!".
In Spain, where the country's half million Muslims are regarded as moderate and well-integrated into the population of 44 million, support for Nasrallah is strong within their community.
Nasrallah "fights to liberate his country" according to Riay Tatary of the Union of Muslim Communities in Spain, expressing his "support for the resistance".
Protestors in the capital of Austria, which is home to about 400,000 Muslims, chanted "Nasrallah, please, bombard Tel Aviv!" at a 130-strong rally Saturday.
Even in key US ally Jordan, which has a peace treaty with neighbouring Israel, protesters brandish huge portraits of the Hezbollah chief and chant for a Hezbollah victory.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites thronged Baghdad on Friday chanting "Death to Israel!" and "Resistance!" in a massive demonstration of support for Hezbollah.
It was the largest foreign show of support for the Lebanese guerrillas since Israel launched its offensive.
In Pakistan, Nasrallah may not yet be as popular a figure as Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, but large portraits of the bearded and bespectacled leader, wearing the black turban reserved for Shiite clerics, feature at increasingly frequent anti-Israel demonstrations, especially by the minority Shiite community.
He has also attracted the support of some of Pakistan's majority Sunni community for resisting Israeli attacks.
Afghanistan's population is also predominantly Sunni, but there too support for Hezbollah is growing. This is a country where the Lebanon conflict has a special resonance - and where Western troops have been blamed for scores of civilian deaths since a coalition led by Israel's ally the United States toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.
Given the omnipresence of foreign forces in the capital Kabul, however, portraits of Nasrallah are generally not on open display.
"I can foresee the day they will be the heroes of the Islamic world," Kabul university lecturer Mohammed Zubair said.
"Hezbollah is a terrorist group, but by the ignorant and unfair attacks of Israel on innocent people and sovereign countries, such terrorist organisations become legitimate in people's minds."
In Indonesia, the Muslim world's most populous nation, Nasrallah's status is rising amid increased anti-Israel protests.
Bangladesh even named a bridge after Hezbollah, and it was opened by the country's junior communications minister.
"I named the bridge Hezbollah because of our love for the Lebanese resistance group," Salahuddin Ahmed said.
"Hezbollah is the only group which is fighting Israel, and the bridge is named after the group as a mark of honour," he said.
Support for Hezbollah is also as strong within some parts of Israel itself as it is in Lebanon, the Syria- and Iran-supported group's base since its formation in 1982 in response to Israel's invasion of the country.
Among the narrow streets and alleyways of old east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967, cassettes and CDs of songs praising Hezbollah and Nasrallah are on sale.
Nasrallah, 45, is a skilled orator with a sense of humour unusual among fundamentalist movements in the Middle East.
He was elected Hezbollah secretary-general in 1992 after Israel killed his predecessor Abbas al-Musawi, his wife and three-year-old daughter in an air strike.
Jerusalem Arab traders bereft of the usual tourist custom huddle to discuss the latest developments in Lebanon and Israel.
"I'm happy to see Israeli soldiers drop like flies," said Jabra Nazmi, 25, owner of a store that sells cloth. "Killed Hezbollah fighters? They go to paradise as martyrs."
Khaled Tamimi, a 42-year-old boutique proprietor, said people "admire Nasrallah as they admired (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein. He's someone who has stood up to Israel that has occupied us for 40 years."
He explained that Palestinians feel so let down by Arab presidents and kings that they bestow hero status on "whatever leader hostile to Israel and the United States".
"Israel was considered the greatest military power in the Middle East, and Hassan Nasrallah has dragged it through the mud," added Jawad al-Risheq, 54.
According to Tamimi, Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and "the two Abdullahs" - the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia - "are accomplices" in Israel's Lebanon offensive.
"Certainly Nasrallah is a hero," he said, "especially when you compare him to a traitor like Mubarak."
In an interview published on August 3 by two Jordanian dailies, King Abdullah II admitted that for many Arabs Hezbollah has indeed assumed a heroic mantle.
"The Arab people now considers Hezbollah a hero because they are confronting the enemy (Israel) and protecting their land," the monarch said.
"Even if Hezbollah is destroyed, another Hezbollah would emerge within a year or two somewhere else, maybe in Jordan, in Syria, in Egypt or in Iraq. Israel must realise that," he warned.

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