Bin Laden lashes out at Arab leaders

CAIRO, Egypt

In his second audio message in three days focusing on the Palestinians, the al-Qaida leader called on Muslim militants in Egypt to help break the blockade of Gaza.

"Those (Arab) kings and leaders sacrificed Palestine and Al-Aqsa to keep their crowns," bin Laden said, referring to Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam's holiest sites. "But we will not be relieved of this responsibility."

His 22-minute audiotape was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaida leaders have issued past statements.

Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri frequently attack Arab leaders as traitors and sellouts. But they are increasingly focusing on the Palestinian issue in recent messages, aiming to increase their appeal to an Arab public widely sympathetic to the Palestinian plight.

Bin Laden's last audio message, released Friday to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel's establishment, vowed to continue what he called al-Qaida's struggle against the Jewish state.

With his denunciation of Arab leaders, bin Laden portrayed himself as the true defender of the Palestinian cause.

He calls Arab leaders "agents of the crusaders" and "wolves" and portrays Arab citizens as herds of sheep who have been handed over to the wolves to look after them.

"Every day, the herd wishes the wolves would stop preying on it," he said.

He said Israel was weak but the Arabs have not fought "even a single serious war to get Palestine back."

Bin Laden singled out by name Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah which fought a 2006 war against Israel that boosted its popularity among Shiites and Sunnis.

Bin Laden said Nasrallah claimed he had enough resources, such as money and combatants, to fight Israel.

"But the truth is the opposite," he said. "If he was honest and has enough (resources), why then he did not support the fight to liberate Palestine."

He also attacked Nasrallah for allowing the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon "to protect the Jews."

Sunni al-Qaida has also stepped up its criticism of Shiite Iran, the main backer of Hezbollah, accusing it of trying to dominate the Middle East.

Bin Laden made no reference to the recent clashes in Lebanon between Shiite Hezbollah supporters and Sunni supporters of the U.S.-backed government. It was not clear whether his message was recorded before or after the violence broke out.

The message comes just days after President Bush delivered a speech at the Israeli parliament that angered many in the Arab world. The speech, to mark Israel's 60th anniversary, praised Israel effusively while hardly mentioning the Palestinians.

Bin Laden's message appeared to come too soon after that speech to be a response to it. But it could strike a chord among Arabs frustrated with the U.S. and its Arab allies.

He said Arab leaders have stopped taking their instructions from Islam and started taking them from the U.S.

"They have decided that peace with the Zionists is their strategic option, so damn their decision."

Both Israel and Egypt have closed their borders with Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas violently seized control of the Palestinian territory in June last year. The closure deepened economic hardship in the already impoverished strip where 1.4 million Palestinians live.

"Each one of us is responsible for the death of our vulnerable people in Gaza where scores have died because of the blockade," bin Laden said.

He urged Muslim militants in Egypt to try to end the closure. "They are the only ones close to its borders and they must work on breaking this blockade," he said.

Bin Laden said the only way to liberate Palestine is to fight the Arab regimes who are protecting Israel.

He said Muslims should ignore the Islamic prohibition against raising arms against fellow Muslims, claiming it was legitimate to rise up against leaders who are not governing according to Islamic law. Those leaders, he said, came to power "either by a military coup or with backing from foreign forces."

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