Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon has called Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, believed to be the spiritual leader of Hizbollah, her “favourite politician”.
The Shia cleric, who died on Sunday, was known for praising suicide bombers and calling for war against Israel and the West.
Ambassador Frances Guy has written an obituary for Fadlallah. She wrote: “People in Lebanon like to ask me which politician I admire most. Until yesterday my preferred answer was to refer to Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, head of the Shia clergy in Lebanon and much admired leader of many Shia Muslims throughout the world.
“When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person.
“Sheikh Fadlallah passed away yesterday. Lebanon is a lesser place the day after but his absence will be felt well beyond Lebanon’s shores.
“I remember well when I was nominated ambassador to Beirut, a Muslim acquaintance sought me out to tell me how lucky I was because I would get a chance to meet Sheikh Fadlallah. Truly he was right. If I was sad to hear the news I know other peoples’ lives will be truly blighted.”
The Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor responded: “In 1983, the Holocaust-denying Sheikh Fadlallah murdered almost 300 American and French servicemen in Beirut. It is surprising that the British Ambassador believes that, ‘the world needs more people like him.’
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The Ambassador expressed a personal view on Sheik Sayyed Fadlallah, describing the man as she knew him.
"We welcomed his progressive views on women's rights and interfaith dialogue. But also had profound disagreements - especially over his statements advocating attacks on Israel."
Fadlallah had called on Palestinians to target Jews, saying: “All of Palestine is a war zone and every Jew who unlawfully occupies a house or land belonging to a Palestinian is a legitimate target. There are no innocent Jews in Palestine.”
During the civil war in Lebanon, he supported the bombing of the US embassy in 1983 where 260 Americans died. He said after the bombing: “"When one fires a bullet at you, you cannot offer him roses.”
CNN Middle East editor Octavia Nasr was sacked by the US TV station after expressing her admiration for the cleric. She later clarified that she supported his relatively liberal attitudes to women.