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A top Saudi Sunni cleric, whose ideas inspired Osama bin Laden, issued a religious edict Saturday disavowing the Shi'ite guerrilla group Hizbullah, evidence that a rift remained among Muslims over the fighting in Lebanon.
Hizbullah, which translates as "the party of God," is actually "the party of the devil," said Sheik Safar al-Hawali, whose radical views made the al-Qaida leader one of his followers in the past.
"Don't pray for Hizbullah," he said in the fatwa posted on his Web site.
The edict, which reflects the historical stand of strict Wahhabi doctrine viewing Shi'ite Muslims as heretics, follows a similar fatwa from another popular Saudi cleric Sheik Abdullah bin Jibreen two weeks into the conflict with Israel.
"It is not acceptable to support this rejectionist party (Hizbullah), and one should not fall under its command, or pray for its victory," bin Jibreen said at the time. That fatwa set off a maelstrom across the Arab world, with other leaders and people at the grass roots level imploring Muslims to put aside differences to support the fight against Israel.
There have been daily demonstrations in support of Hizbullah around the region, including in predominantly Sunni and generally pro-western countries like Jordan.
Even the Saudi government, which initially condemned Hizbullah for sparking the fighting by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers in "uncalculated adventures," backed down and said it warned the United States the region would be headed toward war unless Washington halted the Israeli attacks.
Last week, al-Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri issued a videotape that urged all Muslims everywhere to rise up in holy war against Israel and join the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza.
Mohammed Habib, deputy leader of Egypt's largest Islamic Sunni group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, immediately rejected al-Hawali's new religious edict, saying Hizbullah is defending "the whole Islamic nation."
Al-Hawali is receiving medical treatment in Jeddah and could not be reached for comment.
In remarks published Saturday, Kuwait's prime minister, Sheik Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah, also warned that if the conflict does not end soon, it could give rise to new radicals.
"I believe that if this Israeli war on Lebanon goes on, it could contribute to creating new terrorists, and that of course would pose a new danger in the area," he told Egyptian magazine el-Mussawar.