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Celebrations erupt around Mideast over Egypt

Palestinians in Gaza let off fireworks, Tunisians blared car horns and Lebanese fired guns in the air as people across the Mideast celebrated the Egyptian president's resignation.
/ Source: news services

Palestinians in Gaza let off fireworks, Tunisians drove through streets blaring car horns, and Lebanese fired guns in the air as people across the Mideast celebrated the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Friday.

Even in Israel, which had watched the Egyptian protesters' uprising against Mubarak with concern, a former Cabinet minister said Mubarak did the right thing.

"The street won. There was nothing that could be done. It's good that he did what he did," former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who knew Mubarak well, told Israel TV's Channel 10.

Moments after Egypt Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement of Mubarak's resignation, fireworks lit up the sky over Beirut. Celebratory gunfire rang out in the Shiite-dominated areas in south Lebanon and in southern Beirut.

On Al-Manar TV, the station run by the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah faction, Egyptian anchor Amr Nassef, who was once imprisoned in Egypt for alleged ties to Islamists, cried emotionally on the air and said: "Allahu Akbar (God is great), the Pharaoh is dead. Am I dreaming? I'm afraid to be dreaming."

In Tunisia, where a successful uprising expelled a longtime leader only weeks earlier, cries of joy and the thundering honking of horns greeted the announcement.

"God delivered our Egyptian brothers from this dictator," said Yacoub Youssef, one of those celebrating in the capital of Tunis.

Tunisia inspired pro-democracy protest movements across the Arab world after a month of demonstrations pushed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.

There was no immediate official reaction from Tunisia's caretaker government.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, thousands rushed into the streets in jubilation. Gunmen fired in the air and women handed out candy.

"God bless Egypt, it's a day of joy and God willing all corrupt leaders in the world will fall," said Radwa Abu Ali, 55, one of the women distributing sweets.

Egypt, along with Israel, had enforced a border blockade on Gaza after the territory was seized by Hamas in 2007. There were some expectations that under a new Egyptian regime, the blockade would be eased.

"The resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is the beginning of the victory of the Egyptian revolution," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

"Such a victory was the result of the sacrifices and the steadfastness of the Egyptian people," he told Reuters.

The Qatari government said it regarded Egypt's transfer of power to a military council on Friday as a positive step.

"This is a positive, important step towards the Egyptian people's aspirations of achieving democracy and reform and a life of dignity," the statement from the Emir's royal council said.

In Iran, just hours before Mubarak's resignation was announced, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the events in Egypt show that a new Islamic Middle East is emerging, one without U.S. and Israeli influence.

"Despite all the (West's) complicated and satanic designs ... a new Middle East is emerging without the Zionist regime and U.S. interference, a place where the arrogant powers will have no place," Ahmadinejad told the crowd.

In Israel, there are fears the 1979 peace accord with Egypt — the first between an Arab country and Israel — could now be challenged.

"It's too early to foresee how (the resignation) will affect things," a senior Israeli official said. "We hope that the change to democracy in Egypt will happen without violence and that the peace accord will remain."

Israel and Egypt fought four bitter wars before a peace treaty was reached in 1979. Mubarak steadfastly honored the deal after succeeding Anwar Sadat who was assassinated by Egyptian extremists two years after signing it.

Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli envoy at the U.N., said that if radicals prevail in Egypt and elsewhere, it would be devastating for Israel and the region. "At the end of the day what we are seeing in the Middle East is a battle between the moderates and the extremists and I think it is in everybody's interests that the moderates prevail," he told Fox News.

This article includes reporting from Reuters and The Associated Press.