Top Saudi cleric endorses anti-Hezbollah stance

ABU DHABI Thu Jun 6, 2013 12:08pm EDT

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's highest religious figure praised a leading Sunni Muslim scholar on Thursday for his condemnation of Hezbollah following its intervention in Syria.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh's words add to the growing criticism of Hezbollah by Sunni authorities, underlining the sectarian aspect of Syria's civil war where mostly Sunni rebels are fighting President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

The Shi'ite Hezbollah, once revered by fellow Arabs as a bulwark against Israel, has lost support due to its military support for Assad, including helping his forces retake the strategic border town of Qusair from rebels on Wednesday.

Influential Qatar-based Sunni cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi last week called for jihad (holy war) against Assad and called Iranian-backed Hezbollah - which means party of God - "the party of Satan".

He said he had been wrong to have praised Hezbollah in the past when he had sought to bring Sunnis and Shi'ites closer together.

Saudi Arabia's al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in the birthplace of Islam, said Qaradawi's stance was in line with Sunni orthodoxy.

"Part of his statement was his support and reference to the stance of some of the (Saudi) kingdom's great scholars, which has been clear towards this hateful sectarian party since its establishment," he said in a statement carried by the Saudi press agency.

He called on scholars and politicians to act to stop Hezbollah's "aggression".

Last week, Bahrain's foreign minister called Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, a "terrorist".

Nasrallah became a hero in the Arab world after his forces helped push Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000 and confronted the Jewish state in a short war in 2006.

(Reporting By Ali Abdelaty and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Robin Pomeroy)

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