Obama win reignites peace hopes

Middle Eastern countries have hailed Barack Obama\’s election as US president after the turbulent years of the Bush administration but Iraq says it does not expect any overnight change in policy.

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The challenges facing Obama when he turns to the Middle East peace process were underlined by overnight bloodshed in Gaza, where six Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes and dozens of rockets fired on the Jewish state.

Iran\’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Obama\’s win on Tuesday was “an evident sign” of the American people\’s demand for “basic changes in US foreign and domestic policy” after the two terms of President George W. Bush.

Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic relations for nearly three decades since students took American diplomats hostage following the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the US-backed shah.

Israel ties \’remain strong\’

Despite Arab calls for a perceived more even-handed approach to the Middle East, Israel\’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he was certain US-Israeli ties would strengthen under Obama\’s presidency.

“Israeli-US relations are a special relationship based on values and common interest, with tight cooperation. Israel and the United States both desire to maintain and strengthen these relations,” says Olmert.

In a message of congratulations, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas urged Obama to accelerate efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Abbas “hopes he will speed up efforts to achieve peace, particularly since a resolution of the Palestinian problem and the Israeli-Arab conflict is key to world peace,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina says.

\’Two-state solution\’

Jordan\’s King Abdullah II, a key US ally in the troubled Middle East, sent Obama a cable congratulating him and said he looked forward to cooperation with Washington to “resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in line with a two-state solution.”

Egypt\’s President Hosni Mubarak, whose country is also a staunch US ally, says in a message that he too hoped Obama would work toward a just peace settlement in the Middle East.

Saudi King Abdullah also sent Obama a congratulatory message, hailing the “historic and close” ties between the two countries.

Arab League chief Amr Mussa said he hoped for “an American policy based on honest brokership” in the Middle East.

Change in policy direction

That was echoed by Syria where Information Minister Mohsen Bilal says he hoped Obama\’s win “will help change US policy from one of wars and embargos to one of diplomacy and dialogue.”

The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, urged the Democratic Obama to learn from the “mistakes” of previous US administrations in dealing with Muslim and Arab countries.

The Iraqi government said it will cooperate with Obama “to achieve the joint interest of the two sides, preserve the security and stability of Iraq, maintain full sovereignty of Iraq and protect the interests of its people.”

Many Iraqis urged the president-elect to make good on his promise and ensure the rapid withdrawal of the 145,000-strong American force from Iraq.

Sadr congratulates Obama

The movement of Iraq\’s anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also welcomed Obama\’s triumph. “We consider his victory as a wish of the American public to withdraw forces from Iraq,” spokesman Sheikh Saleh al-Obeidi says.

The initial mood on the Arab street was optimistic.

“It\’s historic. We didn\’t think there would be a black American president so soon, especially after Bush\’s eight years,” says Cairo saleswoman Suzie Ahmed.

Other Arabs congratulated Obama with hopes his perceived Muslim links could alter US policy.

“I believe that his father is Muslim. Surely that will make a difference. There must be a change in policy towards Arabs and Muslims,” says Saudi tourist Abdul Ilah al-Bakri in a Dubai mall.