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Thousands rally against Mideast conflict

Thousands of people gathered across from the White House on Saturday, even though the president was out of town, to condemn U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of people gathered across from the White House on Saturday, even though the president was out of town, to condemn U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East.

Speakers in Lafayette Park energized the most mostly Muslim crowd with chants and speeches condemning Israeli involvement in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, U.S. support for Israel and U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"Occupation is a crime," the crowd chanted, equating the situations in the three areas. But they also called for peace and justice for all.

"We all stand united against the violence and the killing in the holy land," said Esam Omesh, president of the Muslim American Society, a co-sponsor of the demonstration, along with the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee and the National Council of Arab Americans.

"There is no difference between Muslim life, Christian life or Jewish life," said Omesh.

In San Francisco, about 2,000 people marched in support of Lebanese and Palestinians and against the Israel military action.

"The occupiers are being seen as the victims, and I'm really ashamed of what is going on in the Middle East," said Alicia Jrapko, a member of the the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which organized the rally.

"End the occupation now!" one demonstrator's sign read, a call for Israel to leave historically Palestinian lands.

Counter-demonstrators denounce Hezbollah
Several hundred counter-demonstrators gathered to show their support of Israel, waving American and Israeli flags. "Hezbollah out of Lebanon!" a protester's sign said.

Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark drew cheers from the Washington crowd when he called for President Bush's impeachment.

"We've made more enemies during the presidency of George Bush than in the rest of our history combined," Clark said.

Rahat Husain, 24, of Columbia, Md., said he did not have much hope that the Bush administration would change its policies because of the demonstration, but said it could raise Americans' awareness and create compassion for Lebanese citizens.

‘Two sides of the story’
Hassan Rida, 26, traveled from Farmington Hills, Mich., with his 15-year-old cousin, Hassan Mokbel, who was vacationing in southern Lebanon when the current crisis started and had to escape through Syria. He and friends Nehme Mhanna, 24, and Mona Alaouie, 24, from Dearborn, Mich., said they wanted to show support for the Lebanese and educate Americans about the situation.

"There's always two sides of the story," Rida said.

Habib Ghanim, 55, of Silver Spring, Md., said he voted for Bush, but would probably vote democratic in the next election, because he is disappointed and wants to "stop the fighting on all sides."

The family friendly crowd was filled with Muslims, but also contained many non-Muslims, including a handful of orthodox Jews. Yeshaye Rosenverg, 23, traveled form Monsey, N.Y., to "show the support for the Lebanese and Palestine people and to make clear that it's not a Jewish fight between Arabs and Jews."

A law enforcement official on the scene estimated that there were about 5,000 people attending the rally and subsequent march through the streets of Washington, which was sponsored by the ANSWER Coalition, the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation and the National Council of Arab Americans.