US Policy in Mideast under Scrutiny ; Mideast Leaders Have Condemned the Attacks, While Some Arabs Express Anger at US Policy

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"You have to understand that the bullets that are fired at us, the missiles fired at our homes, and the Apache helicopters that the Israelis use - we know that all these things come from the US, and they are killing Palestinians," says Hani Jubah, a burly street merchant in East Jerusalem.

His stall is around the corner from where some Palestinians celebrated Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These outbursts have created a public-relations pitfall for the Palestinian cause, but they also highlight what may be the central motivation for the attacks: US policy in the Middle East.

The Middle Eastern origins of the attacks remain a matter of speculation, but US officials have identified Saudi militant Osama bin Laden as their main suspect. Authorities in Boston have identified five Arab men as suspects, and have seized a car at Logan Airport containing Arabic-language flight manuals, according to a report in yesterday's Boston Herald.

At the same time, regional leaders from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi have condemned the attacks and sympathized with the victims.

Many Muslims and Arabs have been alarmed by Mr. bin Laden's emergence as a suspect. Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the leading cleric of the majority Sunni sect of Islam, yesterday added his voice to a chorus of outrage. "Islam is a religion which rejects violence and bloodletting," he said in a statement reported by the Egyptian state-run news agency.

But analysts of the Middle East say it is likely that bin Laden acted in concert with other groups and perhaps with the acquiescence of one or more governments. If this scenario proves true, they envision a multitiered US retaliation that would target several entities across the region.

If the attacks on New York and Washington are indeed a reaction to US policy in the Middle East, the next phase of the crisis may presage a widening conflict between the West and the adherents of Islam.

Critics of the idea of a "clash of civilizations" are reluctant to concede that such an era is upon us. Nonetheless, says Middle East scholar Rosemary Hollis, "the likelihood has increased over the past 24 hours." Abdel Monem Said, director of Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says the attacks and their aftermath will add "to the existing tension between Islamic countries and the West in general."

Ms. Hollis, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, says she never bought the theory, advanced in the late 1990s by Harvard University political scientist Samuel Huntington, that global conflicts would arise between different cultures. "Now, I think it has elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy," she says.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and other leaders have contributed to the impression that the New York and Washington events constitute "an attack on civilization," as former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark told the BBC yesterday.

In this atmosphere it may be difficult for Americans to consider how their foreign policies may have engendered the sort of malice required to kill thousands of civilians in the space of a few hours, but many people in the Middle East are begging them to do so. …