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Britain pulls Hezbollah blog post by its ambassador to Lebanon

By the CNN Wire Staff
British Ambassador Frances Guy meets with Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in 2008.
British Ambassador Frances Guy meets with Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, once considered Hezbollah's spiritual leader, died Sunday
  • Frances Guy wrote on blog that she left the presence of Fadlallah feeling a better person
  • "The world needs more men like him, willing to reach out across faiths," Guy posted
  • British foreign office yanked blog post; said Guy was expressing personal views
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London, England (CNN) -- Britain's foreign office yanked Friday a blog posted by its ambassador to Lebanon that mourned the death of an "admired" Shiite cleric once considered Hezbollah's spiritual leader.

Frances Guy wrote that she left the presence of Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who died Sunday, feeling a better person.

"Lebanon is a lesser place the day after, but his absence will be felt well beyond Lebanon's shores," she said. "The world needs more men like him, willing to reach out across faiths."

The comments about Fadlallah, once closely associated with Hezbollah, ruffled diplomatic feathers. Israel, especially, was not happy.

In a statement Friday, Britain's foreign office said the ambassador "expressed a personal view" on Fadlallah and did not reflect an official government position. The blog, it said, was taken down.

"While we welcomed his progressive views on women's rights and interfaith dialogue, we also had profound disagreements -- especially over his statements advocating attacks on Israel," the statement said.

Guy, who has been British ambassador to Lebanon since 2006, explained her views in a new blog posted Friday.

"The problem with diplomatic blogging is that you risk being anodyne or controversial," she wrote. " Clearly in the last few days I have been the latter. This was not my intent. My comments on the late Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah have now been removed because they were leading to confusion about British policy.

"I would like to be clear. I have no truck with terrorism wherever it is committed in whoever's name. The British government has been clear that it condemns terrorist activity carried out by Hezbollah. I share that view."

The U.S. State Department classifies the Lebanon-based Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization. So does Britain. When the group formed in the early 1980s, Fadlallah was considered its spiritual leader. But he always insisted he had nothing to do with its operations.

In later years, Sheikh Fadlallah mellowed in some of his views, and spoke out in favor of interfaith dialogue. But his views on Israel did not soften.

In a letter penned to President Obama last year, Fadlallah said:

"The size of support and cover-up provided by your country for the Zionist entity has become known. This entity was established on the land whose people were uprooted by the power of iron and fire. The subsequent American policies have contributed to the loss of the Palestinian cause, despite the ratification of many Security Council resolutions."

Fadlallah died Sunday and thousands of mourners filled the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, to pay tribute.

Guy said Friday that she understood her words had offended people.

"The blog was my personal attempt to offer some reflections of a figure who, while controversial, was also highly influential in Lebanon's history and who offered spiritual guidance to many Muslims in need," she wrote.

"I recognize that some of my words have upset people. This was certainly not my intention. I am sorry that an attempt to acknowledge the spiritual significance to many of Sheikh Fadlallah and the views that he held in the latter part of his life, has served only to further entrench divisions in this complex part of the world."

Earlier this week, CNN's senior Middle East editor, Octavia Nasr, left the network after a controversial posting on Twitter about Fadlallah.

"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot," Nasr tweeted last Sunday.

Nasr, who is Lebanese, later addressed the issue in a blog posted on CNN.com:

"Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East."

"It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment," she wrote.

Nasr's Twitter post "created a wide reaction," said Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president of international news gathering for CNN Worldwide.

"We believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward," she said, and as a result CNN had "decided she will be leaving the company."

 
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