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Hezbollah ‘redrawing’ Mideast map

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hezbollah's dramatic gains in Lebanon last week are just part of a regional process that began last year in the Gaza Strip and will continue in Jordan and Egypt, a Hamas official in the West Bank told The Washington Times.

Sheik Yazeeb Khader, a Ramallah-based Hamas political activist and editor, said militant groups across the Middle East are gaining power at the expense of U.S.-backed regimes, just as Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"What happened in Gaza in 2007 is an achievement; now it is happening in 2008 in Lebanon. It's going to happen in 2009 in Jordan and it's going to happen in 2010 in Egypt," Sheik Khader said in an interview.

"We are seeing a redrawing of the map of the Middle East where the forces of resistance and steadfastness are the ones moving the things on the ground."

His remarks highlight how a growing alliance linking Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah straddles the Shi'ite-Sunni rift.

The notion of new countries falling under Islamist influence reflects a goal of Hamas' parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood, of replacing secular Arab regimes with Islamist governments.

In the same way that Hamas' victory over the Palestinian Authority security forces in Gaza fighting last June profoundly disturbed neighboring Arab states, fighting in Lebanon yesterday and last week has sent shock waves throughout the Middle East and spurred an emergency meeting of the Arab League.

The Arab League is sending Secretary-General Amr Moussa to mediate among the Lebanese government, Hezbollah and Sunni supporters of the government.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, took a different approach to the standoff in Lebanon by saying that the fighting primarily served Israel.

Mr. Abu Zuhri called on each side to engage in dialogue instead of fighting.

But several supporters of Hamas in Gaza were comparing Hezbollah's advances into Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut to Hamas' overrunning of security forces loyal to Mr. Abbas.

The fighting of the past few days has brought Lebanon closer to armed internal conflict than at any other time since the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990.

In Israel, military and political leaders expressed concern that the Lebanese government, led by U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, yielded to Hezbollah's show of force.

"What is going on in Lebanon at this hour is actually the overthrow of Lebanon by Hezbollah. The democratic Lebanese government will become a puppet government — an Iranian dream," said Ze'ev Boim, a lawmaker from Israel's governing Kadima party.

"It is particularly awful to see an Iranian battalion on the northern border of Israel."

Giora Eiland, Israel's former national security adviser, said the international community failed to insist that the government of Mr. Siniora confront Hezbollah, and is now paying the price.

Hezbollah's ascendance in Lebanon is likely to prompt a new round of fighting with Israel, he said.

"If, for the last two years, Hezbollah didn't move against us because it was more interested in grounding its position domestically in Lebanon, now Hezbollah will feel more at ease to operate against us," he said. "I think the good years are behind us."

Hezbollah fought Israel to a standoff in a 2006 war. The militant Shi'ite group battered Israeli cities with rockets, and an incursion by Israeli troops into southern Lebanon failed to stop the rocket attacks.

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