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Arabs Support Barak’s Election

May 18, 1999

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday welcomed the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister of Israel, offering their help to move the stalled Palestinian peace process forward.

``Egypt is ready to cooperate with the new Israeli prime minister to revive the peace process and to change the general atmosphere in the region which was extremely poisoned over the last three years,″ Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said.

He described Barak’s decisive victory over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Monday’s vote as ``a very clear message″ from the Israeli people that they want peace.

Arabs accused Netanyahu of stalling the Middle East peace process. Barak has promised to forge a secure peace with the Palestinians, pull troops out of Lebanon in a year and heal the divisions among Israelis.

Jordan, the other Arab country that has signed a peace treaty with Israel, echoed Egypt’s warm welcome.

``Hopefully we will witness a serious move for a comprehensive, just and durable peace in the Middle East,″ said Ayman Majali, Jordan’s deputy prime minister.

The Jordanian public, which includes thousands of Palestinian refugees, followed the Israeli polls closely. Some bought sweets, a traditional gesture of celebration, upon hearing the results.

In most Arab capitals, newspapers carried the news of Barak’s victory with banner headlines. Radio and television stations extended their news programs to cover election results.

Across Lebanon, people turned to their televisions late Monday to watch election results.

But Hezbollah said Tuesday the war to force Israeli troops out of their self-proclaimed ``security zone″ in south Lebanon would continue ``regardless of the circumstances.″

``The enemy will remain a target because it is an occupier,″ said Hezbollah leader Sheik Nabil Kaouk.

The residents of Marjayoun and other settlements in the Israeli-occupied zone face an uncertain future if Israel withdraws its forces. Many families have members who serve in the 2,500-man South Lebanon Army, the Israeli-backed militia. In addition, about 3,500 inhabitants of the zone work in Israel.

But some Lebanese people were hopeful about Barak.

``We need change. We can only hope he brings positive changes,″ said Rania Saber, a 32-year-old social worker in Beirut.

Others were pessimistic. Hussein Haidar, an architect, saw the moderate Barak and the hard-line Netanyahu as two faces of the same coin.

``The only difference is that while Netanyahu stabbed us in the front, Barak will probably stab us in the back,″ he said in Sidon, the capital of south Lebanon.

Many Lebanese are wary of Barak because of his background. In 1973 he visited Beirut, disguised as a woman, as part of an Israeli commando team that killed several Palestinian leaders. During his 1991-95 tenure as army chief of staff, Israel launched a massive attack on guerrillas in south Lebanon that killed about 150 people, and assassinated Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi.

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