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Blair firmly backs U.S. as world splits over raids Britain alone contributes militarily; Russia, China, Arab leaders decry action


LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair provided warplanes and strong support for President Clinton yesterday, in a dual bid to bolster an aerial armada and blunt growing international criticism of the joint U.S.-British air campaign against Iraq.

As British Tornado jets entered the fray, Blair told an emotionally charged emergency session in the House of Commons that "we must act to counter a real and present danger," posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

A tiny band of left-wingers from Blair's Labor Party opposed the strikes, with one member of Parliament, George Galloway, bellowing: "An Arab-Muslim capital is in flames at the hands of a new crusade, but this time led not by Richard the Lionheart but by Clinton the liar."

Britain was the only other country to contribute militarily to the operation, and Blair emerged as Clinton's strongest international backer.

The world appeared bitterly divided over the raids, with the United States and Britain at odds with Russia and China -- two of the other three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

France, the council's other permanent member, was cool to the operation.

Germany, Canada, Australia, Austria, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Japan and South Korea supported the attacks, with many blaming Hussein.

But from the Russian parliament to capitals throughout the Arab world, there was growing disenchantment with the aerial campaign.

China opposed the operation. France, sticking to its traditional independent course, was cool to the Western escalation while blaming Baghdad for failing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

French President Jacques Chirac said he discussed with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other leaders "the means to come out of this crisis."

The Vatican issued a pointed statement that said: "The Holy See hopes that this aggression will end as soon as possible and that international order is restored."

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said his government would ask Washington and London to call off strikes.

Pakistan's Senate unanimously endorsed a resolution condemning the airstrikes as "an attack on humanity and the Islamic world."

In Cairo, officials of the 22-member Arab League condemned the action and said they would hold a weekend emergency meeting at Iraq's request to discuss the situation.

"This strike is considered to be an act of aggression against an Arab country that was trying to implement and comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions," said Esmat Abdel-Meguid, the Arab League's secretary general.

Kuwait, which was liberated by the West from Iraqi control during the Persian Gulf war, declined to express full support for the action.

Iran, which battled Iraq during an eight-year war in the 1980s, called for a halt to the action, but blamed Baghdad for failing to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Lebanon's new prime minister, Selim al-Hoss, called on the United States to "stop this aggression and lift sanctions from the Iraqi people, and show commitment to a fair position on the region's issues."

In Jordan and in the Palestinian area on the West Bank, demonstrators rallied against the United States and Britain.

"U.S. and U.K. are guilty of mass murder and terrorism in Iraq," read one placard at a rally of Jordanian women.

In Bethlehem, Palestinian schoolboys chanted, "Clinton you coward. Go look for women."

While Israel ordered 65 gas mask distribution centers opened and deployed Patriot anti-missile batteries, its leaders played down chances that Iraq would stage a repeat of the 39 Scud missile attacks launched against the Jewish state during the 1991 gulf war.

"We are preparing for every eventuality," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel Radio, adding in a jibe at Hussein. "Who knows what is going on in that man's brain?"

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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