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Central Asia: Mideast Conflict Watched With Mixed Emotions


A Lebanese family fleeing Beirut on July 13 (epa) PRAGUE, July 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Nine days after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Lebanon-based Hizballah militants, Israeli air strikes have killed 300 Lebanese and displaced half a million people, according to the Lebanese government. The United Nations says one-third of the dead are children. In Israel, rocket attacks fired from militant positions in Lebanon have left 29 dead.

Israeli has defended its massive military response by saying Hizballah is a terrorist organization that for too long has menaced its northern border and its citizens. Hizballah originally said it kidnapped the two soldiers to secure the release of its own and other Arab prisoners in Israeli jails. Now it says the clash is no less than a battle for Islam.

RFE/RL asked people in predominantly Muslim Central Asia how they see the conflict.

Tajikistan

On the streets of Dushanbe, a Tajik man said Israel's motive for attacking Lebanon is not what it has said publicly.

"They [Israel] use the excuse that the reason was releasing a soldier. Now we hear in [the] media, and read on many websites, that this [was] just an excuse, it is more for creating havoc in the region," he protested.

Another Tajik man told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that violence solves nothing, and offered a suggestion to end the conflict.

"It is not good that Israel is bombarding Lebanon," he said. "There is no justice in this. People are being killed. There must be peace. Russia and the U.S. should be involved to stop this war."

Kazakhstan

A Kazakh worker in Almaty named Qanat said he has not followed the conflict and isn't interested in Middle East events. The Arabs and Israelis, he said, have "permanent antagonism" for each other.

"To tell you frankly, I don't care. They fought [before] and they will be fighting," the man said. "Here in Almaty we have a mess [ourselves]. That's why I do not care about Middle East at all. They have been fighting with each other all their lives and they will be fighting as long as the Jews are living [there]."

Aleksandr Kimasov, a retired ethnic Russian from Almaty, said all fighting is wrong.

"I would like to say not just as a citizen of Kazakhstan, but as a citizen of the Earth, that any war is bad, very bad. Those who ignite it always are responsible in front of the Almighty. Any conflict, any so-called disorder or matter can be solved by diplomatic, economic, and any other means," Kimasov said.

Aleksandr Suvorov, an Orthodox Christian preacher at Almaty's Voznesensky Cathedral, is concerned for the Lebanese people, who he said are suffering because of Hizballah's actions.

"The Hizballah movement does not necessarily reflect the stand, or positions, of all the Lebanese people. The result is that people of Lebanon suffer," Suvorov said. "And surely, the military aggression by Israel has to be condemned, as well. In the end, it isn't those who initiated all the [events], but ordinary people, who suffer."

Afghanistan

Kabiri, who didn't give a last name, said the conflict between Hizballah and Israel was not a battle of Muslims and Jews, but a political clash.

But Sharifi, also no last name, offered that it could be both. "My view on the war between Hizballah and Israel [is] both factors are involved," he said. "Political factors, and it could also be a war between Islam and [non-Muslims]."

Uzbekistan

In Uzbekistan, a woman in Tashkent told RFE/RL that the conflict in the Middle East seems destined to continue indefinitely.

"The Middle East is, by God's will, a never-ending conflict," she said. "[The Palestinians and Israelis] have always wanted each other's land. Conflict and political games will continue there until justice prevails."

An Uzbek man was less resigned to the conflict. Israel, he said, bears responsibility for the current violence.

"It looks like [Israel] is playing with Lebanon like a [boy] plays with a ball. We've talked about it and everyone [here] condemned Israel. If they destroy everything because of one [hostage], is that justice" They invaded and destroyed [Lebanon]. I saw it on TV. It's wrong. It's like saying, 'I'll kill 100 of your people if you kill one of mine.' Muslims must be like [garbage] for [Israel]."

Another man pointed out that the world community has put all the blame on Hizballah.

"The G8 [Group of Eight leading industrialized countries] did not condemn Israel. [They] condemned Lebanese militants," he said. "Even if those are militants, how can one destroy everything and kill ordinary people? Because of some 10 or 15 militants, people suffer and cities have been destroyed."

Azerbaijan

Several Azeris interviewed by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service expressed similar feelings on what the role of Azerbaijan, Muslims, and Arabs should be.

"Azerbaijan must condemn the war," one said. "This is no longer the war against terrorism, this is a very big and well-planned action.

Another said he is frustrated with his fellow Muslims. "Where is the Muslim world?" he asked. "I am very angry. The peaceful Muslim population is being killed. They are like toys for Israel."

Terrorism goes against Islamic values, offered another, so "we should give our support to Muslims, but at the same time we should seriously fight terrorism."

Finally, one man saw a parallel between what it happening in the Middle East and his own country.

"Azerbaijan should try to make peace between them [Israel and Lebanon]," he said, "because Azerbaijan itself suffers from the conflict."

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Tajik, and Uzbek services contributed to this report.)
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