Thousands protest Israeli assault on Gaza

Image: Iraqi demonstrators burn the Israeli flag
Iraqi demonstrators burn the Israeli flag during a protest against the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Baghdad's Mustansiriya square on Monday .Ahmad Al-Rubaye / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Crowds of thousands swept into the streets of cities around the Middle East on Sunday to denounce Israel's air assault on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

From Lebanon to Iran, Israel's adversaries used the weekend assault to marshal crowds into the streets for noisy demonstrations. Angry protesters carried images of the dead and the destruction in demonstrations from Cairo to Istanbul.

And among regional allies there was also discontent: The prime minister of Turkey, one of the few Muslim countries to have relations with Israel, called the air assault a "crime against humanity."

The Syrian government, meanwhile, announced the suspension of its indirect peace talks with Israel because the attacks.

Israel and Syria held four rounds of indirect negotiations in Turkey after the peace talks were launched in May.

Fighters on alert
Hezbollah's leader in Lebanon told thousands of Beirut residents that his group will not abandon Gaza and asked his fighters to be alert in case Israel decides to attack his group.

A radical Saudi cleric used the assault on Gaza to incite believers to target Israeli interests "everywhere," to avenge the attacks on the Gaza strip.

Several of Sunday's protests turned violent. A crowd of anti-Israel protesters in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul became a target for a suicide bomber on a bicycle.

In Lebanon, police fired tear gas to stop dozens of demonstrators from reaching the Egyptian Embassy. Some in the crowd hurled stones at the embassy compound. Security officials said two policemen were wounded and taken to hospital and several demonstrators were lightly injured.

Egypt, which has served as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians as well as between Hamas and its rival Fatah, has been criticized for joining Israel in closing its borders with Gaza. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on Hamas to renew its truce with Israel.

Egypt also again summoned the Israeli ambassador to express its rejection of Israeli government comments about expanding the assault on Gaza.

Calls for truce to be renewed
France also called for the truce to be renewed and rallied European nations to use "all their weight" to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

A Palestinian protester, throws stones at Lebanese policemen during a riot between Lebanese security and Palestinian demonstrators in front the Egyptian embassy, during a demonstration held by leftist and Palestinian groups to protest Israel's attacks against the Gaza Strip, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Sunday Dec. 28, 2008. Lebanese police have fired tear gas at dozens of demonstrators after they threw stones at the Egyptian embassy. Hussein Malla / AP

Across Europe, demonstrations took place Sunday. About 700 protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy in London. In Paris, about 1,000 demonstrators gathered near the Arc de Triomphe.

Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband is calling for an immediate cease-fire by Israel and by Hamas, which controls Gaza. He's calling this a "dangerous moment."

France's foreign minister says the EU is ready to increase its humanitarian support for Gaza, and resume its monitoring role at Gaza border crossings.

Pope Benedict, who is expected to visit the region in May, is calling on the international community "not to leave anything untried" to help Israel and the Palestinians get away from what he called "this dead end" of violence.

In Beirut, the leader of Lebanese militant Hezbollah Sheik Hassan Nasrallah also took a stab at the Egyptian role. He said if it does not open its Rafah border crossing with Gaza then "you are taking part in the crime" against Palestinians.

"I have asked the brothers in the resistance, especially in the south, to be present and cautious because we are facing a treacherous and criminal enemy," Nasrallah said, warning of possible Israeli attacks on Lebanon.

Hamas: Fighting the only option
Hamas representative Osama Hamdan told another rally in Beirut that the militant group had no choice but to fight. Gaza militants have been lobbing dozens of rockets and mortars into southern Israel since a six-month truce expired over a week ago, prompting Israel's fierce retaliation.

"We have one alternative which is to be steadfast and resist and then we will be victorious," Hamdan said.

In the capital of neighboring Syria, more than 5,000 people marched toward the central Youssef al-Azmeh square, where they burned an Israeli and an American flag.

One demonstrator carried a banner reading, "The aggression against Gaza is an aggression against the whole Arab nation."

In Amman, Jordan, about 5,000 lawyers marched toward parliament to demand the Israeli ambassador's expulsion and the closure of the embassy. "No for peace, yes to the rifle," they chanted. There also demonstrations in nearby Palestinian refugee camps.

A small group of Jordanian lawmakers — who petitioned to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman — burned the Israeli flag in parliament and trampled on it while clapping, despite objections from parliament's speaker and other lawmakers.

The U.S. Embassy in Jordan warned Americans to avoid areas of demonstrations.

Complaints from Egyptians
Thousands of Egyptians — many of them students — demonstrated at campuses in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere and accused President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders of not doing enough to support the Palestinians.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said Israel should be "wiped off the map," denounced the Israeli strikes. His country's Red Crescent said it is sending relief to Gaza through Egypt.

Protests extend to Dubai, And in the normally politically placid streets of glitzy Dubai and Kuwait, hundreds of demonstrators — some draped in Palestinian flags — protested at the Palestinian consulate in Dubai and outside the Kuwaiti parliament.

"This is a time for the Palestinians and Arabs to unite to fight against a common enemy," said Majdei Mansour, a 30-year-old Palestinian resident of Dubai.

In Iraq, where the government has also condemned the Gaza airstrikes, a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up amid a crowd of about 1,300 demonstrators in Mosul who were protesting against Israel, killing one demonstrator and wounding 16, Iraqi police said.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack on the demonstration, which was organized by a Sunni party in sympathy for Palestinians in Gaza, who are largely fellow Sunnis.

And feeding on the Muslim anger, Saudi radical cleric Sheik Awadh al-Garni has issued a religious edict urging Muslims to target "interests and anything that has a link to Israel," calling it "a legitimate target for Muslims everywhere."

The fatwas are not legally binding, and it is up to the individual Muslim to follow them.