CAIRO, Egypt – Moderate Arab governments reacted with relative restraint to Israel's offensive in Lebanon, condemning attacks on civilians and infrastructure, but also implicitly criticizing Hezballah.
The relative silence appeared to reflect a sentiment in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that the Shiite Lebanese guerrilla group had dragged Lebanon into a needless fight by snatching two Israeli soldiers — a fight that would only benefit the hard-line regimes in Syria and Iran.
Egypt warned that the violence could engulf the whole region in conflict and called on all sides to avoid "being dragged into a new cycle of violence and counterviolence."
"Targeting civilians under the pretext of fighting terrorism is unacceptable and unjustified. Israeli practices violate international law," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.
But he condemned attacks on civilians by both sides — a comment that could apply to Hezbollah's rocket attacks on northern Israel.
"We condemn any military action that targets civilians. We consider it a terrorist act, regardless of who the civilians are or its source," he said.
In Jordan, the second Arab country after Egypt to have a signed peace treaty with Israel, the government issued a statement condemning "Israel's use of force against unarmed civilians and the outcome in terms of the human loss and destruction of civil institutions."
But it clearly criticized the Iran- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah, saying, "Jordan stands against whoever exposes the Palestinian people and their cause, Lebanon and its sovereignty to unexpected dangers."
Egypt has launched a diplomatic push with Syria in a bid to resolve the crisis. Syria is a top ally of Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, whose fighters snatched an Israeli soldier two weeks ago, sparking a similar Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Aboul Gheit made a swift visit to Damascus on Wednesday to deliver a message from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Syria's Bashar Assad. Mubarak met Thursday at Alexandria with Saad Al-Hariri, Saad Hariri, leader of Lebanon's largest parliamentary bloc and a top opponent of Syria.
The Cairo-based Arab League announced it would hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers on Saturday to discuss the situation in Lebanon and Palestinian territories.
Israeli forces intensified their attacks in Lebanon on Thursday, imposing a naval blockade on the country and pounding its only international airport and the Hezbollah TV station in Israel's heaviest air campaign against Lebanon for 24 years. Two days of Israel-Lebanese violence have killed 47 Lebanese, Eight Israeli soldiers and an Israeli civilian.
The mild Arab response drew fire from the Egyptian government's top domestic opponent, the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The Arab official stance has gone from a clear failure to support the resistance to a suspicious silence on Zionist crimes, reaching what amounts to collaboartion of some of the regimes with the enemy," said Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef said Thursday.