US officials have said Israel "has the right to defend itself," since its incursion into Gaza three weeks ago and air raids on Lebanon; but president Bush's stance is offending Americans who are Muslims or of Arab descent.

Early last week, a coalition of 11 major Muslim organisations publicly called on Bush to forcefully condemn the attacks on Gaza and to designate as "war crimes" the destruction of Palestine's civilian infrastructure.

After the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, the appeals for denouncing Israel have multiplied.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest US Muslim rights group, said: "Once again, America's image and interests worldwide are being harmed by one-sided support for Israeli actions.

"We're urging Muslims in America and other people of conscience to contact their elected officials to tell them that we have to have balanced foreign policy for the Middle East, one that is driven by American interests, not Israeli interests."

US must lobby

Zainab Al-Suwaij, the director of the American Islamic Congress, had an even more immediate goal, urging the US to actively lobby for an end to the current violence.

"The policy for the US should be stopping the violence, period, and starting to solve the problem through negotiations."

"We're urging Muslims in America and other people of conscience to contact their elected officials to tell them that we have to have balanced foreign policy for the Middle East, one that is driven by American interests, not Israeli interests."

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee announced at a rally outside the White House on Tuesday to "protest Israeli military action in Lebanon and Gaza."

The committee, founded in 1980 by James Abourezk, former US senator of Arab descent, calls itself the largest Arab civil rights group in the United States.

Leaders of Arab-American communities around the United States plan to meet in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in the Mideast.

Dual nationals

The plight of an estimated 25,000 US citizens in Lebanon, many of whom are dual nationals, has injected a sense of urgency to the gathering.

The Arab American Institute, which says it represents the policy and community interests of US Arab Americans, said 40 per cent of the 3.5 million Arab-Americans are of Lebanese descent.

The institute has posted on its website photographs of Arab-American vacationers, children and visitors trapped in Lebanon by the fighting.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said: "In many cases (there is) no way for them to leave, even if a plan were to be developed, they can't go from one part of the country to the other to get out."