July 24, 2006

ASEAN chair condemns Israel on eve of Rice visit

KUALA 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

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.

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

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