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Arabs Protest Israel's Airstrikes In Gaza

STEVE INSKEEP, Host: INSKEEP: It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. We're going to look now at some of the fallout from Israel's military action this week. Israeli planes are bombing targets in Gaza, that's the strip of land controlled by the Palestinian group, Hamas. Medical officials say the assault on Hamas targets has now killed more than 340 people.

INSKEEP: And let's get a sense of Arab response from NPR's Peter Kenyon. He's in Cairo, Egypt. What kinds of protests are taking place around the Arab world?

PETER KENYON: Well, the largest one yesterday was in Beirut. It was organized by the Shiite militia Hezbollah. And their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, basically accused Egypt of collaborating with Israel. And there has been a concern about Hezbollah's reaction to all of this. And people were somewhat relieved in Lebanon yesterday to note that Nasrallah was careful not to announce any intention of mobilizing Hezbollah forces, for instance, along Israel's northern border. That's one of the so-called worst case scenarios as seen by some analysts as something that could cause the conflict to spiral out of control. For the moment, Nasrallah seemed content to focus on Arab regimes that in his view are doing Israel's work for them, and by that, he means Egypt keeping the border with Gaza closed, and condemning Hamas for failing to continue its ceasefire instead of defending the Palestinians. Nasrallah called on Egyptians to take to the streets, try and pressure their own government to open the borders and send in supplies. And by that, he meant not just food and medicine, but also weapons to help Hamas fight back against the Israeli military.

INSKEEP: And I guess Egypt is the only country besides Israel itself that actually has a border with Gaza, and has any kind of say here at all. What are Egyptian leaders saying in response to this blame being pointed at them?

KENYON: They're still on the defensive. They say they have a right to defend their border. They have sent thousands of security forces north to maintain that security. The Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, yesterday has said Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah was trying to sew chaos in Egypt. And he said Egypt can take care of its own interests, and he accused Hezbollah of essentially declaring war on Egypt.

And now it will be interesting, I think, to see if this becomes one of the lasting affects of this military action. Not just to drive a further wedge between the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements, but also, to further polarize the so-called moderate Arab states - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordon - from Syria and Iran and other regimes.

INSKEEP: Peter it's interesting that you mentioned Hezbollah in Lebanon and what's being said on that side of the border with Israel, because some analysts are comparing Israel's strikes in Gaza with the strikes on the other side in Lebanon a couple of years ago. How do these two different conflicts compare so far?

KENYON: Well, from the analysis I'm reading, it's early days, yet of course, but the immediate consensus is that they have learned some lessons. This is from the Israeli viewpoint, of course. In other words, instead of rushing into Gaza, the way they rushed into Lebanon in the summer of 2006, this time, Israel carefully plotted out its campaign and has limited its stated goals. There's also a much heavier reliance on air strikes. There is one other comparison which comes back to Egypt again, and Nasrallah pointed it out in his speech yesterday. He said in 2006, when the Lebanese territory was under Israeli attack, Syria threw open its borders with Lebanon. He said Egypt should do the same now. And for a lot of Arabs, who are helplessly watching this unfold in Gaza, that seems like the least Egypt should do.

INSKEEP: Would you explain why it would make a difference, one way or the other, whether Egypt would open the borders in this particular circumstance?

KENYON: Well, it could make a huge difference. It would draw Egypt into the conflict. In Israel's eyes it would make them possibly an enemy, and there's very tense relations militarily, of course, between Israel and Egypt, despite their peace treaty. There are no army troops allowed on the border by that treaty. There's only police and other security forces and border guards. So it's a touchy issue for Egypt, and they have another problem, in that they want to support the Palestinians, but they do not necessarily want to support Hamas all that much. They do not have much love for Islamist regimes. The worse case scenario for Egypt would be, if there becomes a second front at the southern edge of Gaza - that is, Palestinians trying to fight their way into Egypt to get away from the Israeli attack, that would be a nightmare for Egyptians.

INSKEEP: So, is there any likelihood of a united Arab response to all this?

KENYON: Well, expectations are pretty low on that front, Steve. The GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council just met in Oman. They did condemn the Israeli military operation, but they didn't have much of a solution or any proposed course of action. The Arab League is coming here to Cairo, tomorrow. They face similar problems. To be fair to them, they're trying to juggle several very different agendas. It's hard for them to reach a consensus at the best of times. And whether the frustration and anger at what's happening in Gaza brings them much closer to a unified position this time remains to be seen.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Cairo. Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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United States & World Morning Edition
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.