DUBAI - Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al Zawahri said his group would not stand by and watch Israel bombard Lebanon and the Palestinians, calling on Muslims in a video aired today to fight those who support the attacks.
Zawahri, in the tape aired by Al Jazeera television, did not say how al Qaeda would respond but he linked the fighting in the Middle East to conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, countries where the militant group is battling Western forces.
"How can we remain silent while watching bombs raining on our people," he asked. "Oh Muslims everywhere, I call on you to fight and become martyrs in the war against the Zionists and the Crusaders," Zawahri said in the statement which was entitled "The Zionist-crusader war on Lebanon and the Palestinians".
Zawahri also lambasted "impotent, treacherous" Arab governments for their feeble response to the Israeli attacks.
Zawahri's statement was the first comment by the Sunni Muslim-dominated al Qaeda against Israel's war on Lebanon which was sparked by the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Shi'ite Muslim guerrilla group Hizbollah. Israel is also waging an offensive in Gaza to free another soldier.
"There are 10,000 prisoners of war in Israel's jails that nobody bothers about, but when it came to three Israeli soldiers, the whole world was turned upside down," he said.
The al Qaeda deputy did not mention Hizbollah, but called on Muslims to wage jihad or holy war against all countries in the "crusader alliance" that support the Israeli bombardment.
In previous statements, Zawahri and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden have referred to Shi'ites as "infidels".
"As they fight us everywhere, we will fight them everywhere; everyone who has joined in the crime must pay the price; we can't stand by and monitor these rockets spewing their fire on the people of Lebanon and remain quiet," he said.
"The war with Israel is not based on any agreements or any border disputes ... it is jihad for the sake of Allah, to free all of Palestine from occupation and to rid all the homes of Islam from the crusaders. The whole world is our battlefield."
In the video, Zawahri appeared to be seated in a studio, with three photographs behind him, one showing the collapsing Twin Towers of New York, which al Qaeda targeted in September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Islamist websites say they will carry the full version of Zawahri's statement soon.
More than 400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel started bombing Lebanon after the capture of its soldiers on July 12. Fifty-one Israelis have also been killed. In Gaza, 142 Palestinians have lost their lives.