ASEAN chair condemns Israel on eve of Rice visit

untitled10.bmpKUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi accused Israel on Tuesday of excessive military reprisals in Lebanon and urged his Southeast Asian neighbors to take a tougher stand against the Jewish state.

The moderate-Muslim leader, who shows a friendly face to the West and routinely condemns militant extremism, urged foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asians (ASEAN) to be blunt about Israel’s offensive.

“The latest developments in the Middle East are gravely threatening international peace and security,” Abdullah said in an opening address to the ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

“I feel that we in ASEAN must make our voices heard, loudly and clearly, that we cannot continue tolerating the subjugation and repression of the Palestinian people by Israel.”

 

At least 378 people in Lebanon and 41 Israelis have died in the war, ignited by Hizbollah’s capture of two Israeli troops on July 12. Most of the dead are civilians and Lebanon says almost a fifth of its population has been displaced by Israeli bombing.

ASEAN ministers called in a statement late on Monday for an immediate U.N.-supervised ceasefire in southern Lebanon and accused Israel of excessive, indiscriminate force.

But Malaysia’s premier, who is due to host U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this week for ASEAN-sponsored global security talks, went further in his opening speech.

“We should not tolerate Israel’s excessive military reprisals against Lebanon,” Abdullah said, calling for U.N. peacekeepers to be sent into southern Lebanon to prevent an Israeli invasion.

“The collective punishment inflicted on the Lebanese people and the destruction of towns and cities are unconscionable.”  

Abdullah, also chairman of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, enlisted support on Monday for his stand on Israel from neighboring Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and a fellow member of ASEAN.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who met Abdullah on Monday, has also called for urgent U.N. intervention.

Abdullah, a Muslim scholar, is a favorite in Western capitals because he promotes his own brand of moderate Islam, called Islam Hadhari (civilisational Islam). He routinely condemns acts of militant extremism as terrorism and un-Islamic.

But he has voiced dismay at the U.N. Security Council’s inability to agree concrete action to try to stop the violence.

 

“Even the United Nations, our best hope for international peace and security, is in apparent paralysis and unable to act,” he was quoted as saying in Jakarta by Singapore’s Straits Times.

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