January 19, 2007 / 10:36 AM / 12 years ago

Hezbollah chief wins unlikely fan in sexy pop diva

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Racy Lebanese pop diva Haifa Wehbe hardly seems a typical supporter of conservative Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

But the green-eyed, 30-year-old singer, arguably the Arab world’s best-known sex symbol, has only praise for Nasrallah’s part in the July-August war between his guerrillas and Israel.

“It’s a land that has people to defend it ... and therefore Nasrallah had a big role ... in defending Lebanon’s honor and border,” she told Reuters in an interview before a weekend concert in the coastal resort of Jounieh.

Human rights groups criticized both sides for targeting civilians during the conflict, in which about 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, mainly civilians, along with 157 Israelis.

“There’s no war that starts with no reason. The one who begins it is the aggressor and I don’t think we started it,” Haifa said of the conflict that erupted after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

PRAISE SURPRISING

The war made Nasrallah a hero across the Arab world, but it is still surprising to hear Haifa pay tribute to a cleric who probably looks askance on performers like her. Hezbollah’s television channel does not feature female singers.

However, Haifa is a Shi’ite from south Lebanon and had a brother who died fighting against Israel in the 1980s.

The former model’s own fame rests on sex appeal and outrageous rumors that have made her an Arab tabloid favorite. She has even taken part in a reality television celebrity show.

Haifa stormed on to the small screen a few years ago to win popularity in the Arab world for music videos relying heavily on saucy outfits which religious conservatives consider scandalous.

For her Jounieh concert, Haifa sauntered from her black Mercedes to her dressing room wearing a skin-tight navy blue tracksuit and black stiletto heels, greeting journalists and backstage workers with a sultry “Bonsoir”.

Home to several popular Arab musical legends, Lebanon has also produced many female pop singers who are less conservative than their counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East.

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