Thousands in Mideast take to the streets to protest Israel

Turkish prime minister calls air assault a "crime against humanity."

jordan gaza protests 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
jordan gaza protests 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Crowds of thousands swept into the streets of cities around the Middle East Sunday to shout down 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 out onto the streets for noisy demonstrations. And among regional allies there was also discontent: Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the air assault a "crime against humanity." Two days of protests have been free of violence except for one in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday that became a target for a suicide bomber on a bicycle. In Lebanon, a Hamas official roused a crowd of about 1,000 people topped by fluttering Lebanese and Palestinian flags, promising victory, resistance and ruling out surrender. His speech was met with cries of "death to Israel" from the crowd. The demonstrators gathered outside the United Nations office in downtown Beirut. After an all-night emergency session in New York, the UN's Security Council expressed serious concern at the escalating situation in Gaza and called on Israel and the Palestinians to immediately halt all violence. The world body's Beirut offices were guarded by dozens of Lebanese troops, but there was no violence. Hamas representative Osama Hamdan told the crowd that the group had no choice but to fight. "We in the Hamas group and other resistance factions in Gaza know that we don't have many alternatives. 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." "Down with America, the mother of terrorism," read another. A group of 30 lawmakers in Jordan were preparing a petition to press the government to expel Israel's ambassador. A majority in the Chamber of Deputies would have to approve. No date has been set for a debate. About 5,000 lawyers marched toward parliament to demand the ambassador's expulsion and the closure of the embassy. "No for peace, yes to the rifle," they chanted. In Jordan's squalid Baqaa camp for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, protester Yassin Abu Taha, 32, blamed America and Israel for the Middle East's problems. "The Israelis kill our people in Gaza and the West Bank. The Americans kill our people in Iraq. We're refugees, kicked out of our home in Tulkarem in 1967 and we're still displaced," he said, bemoaning his family's flight in the Six Day war. "What else do they [Israelis and Americans] want, to come here and kill us?" he said. The US Embassy in Jordan issued an advisory warning Americans to avoid areas of demonstrations. Iran's president, who has blasted Israel in speeches and said it should be "wiped off the map," joined those condemning the Israeli strikes, calling them "criminal." A state TV report late Saturday quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Iran will stand by the Palestinians. Several hundred Iranian students and lawmakers held separate protests Sunday at a Teheran square and outside the UN building in the capital. In the normally politically placid streets of glitzy Dubai, hundreds of demonstrators - some draped in Palestinian flags - gathered at the Palestinian consulate. Police prevented several attempts by protesters to move their demonstration from inside the consulate perimeter to the streets outside. Majdei Mansour, 30, said he came to show support for his fellow countrymen. The Dubai resident has family still living in Gaza but said he's been unable to contact them since the latest fighting. "These protests all over the world will call international attention to the cause of Gaza," Mansour said. "This is a time for the Palestinians and Arabs to unite to fight against a common enemy." Demonstrations are rare in Dubai, one of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates. The country does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel. In Iraq, a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up amid a crowd of about 1,300 demonstrators in Mosul who were protesting Israel's air strikes on Gaza, killing one demonstrator and wounding 16 others, Iraqi police said. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack. Iraq's government also condemned the airstrikes on Gaza. Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said condemnation didn't go far enough. "Expressing condemnation and denunciation for what is going on against our brothers in Gaza and expressing solidarity with them by words only doesn't mean anything in the face of the big tragedy they are facing," he said in a statement released by office in Najaf. "Now more than at any other time, both Arab and Islamic nations are required to take a practical stance for the sake of stopping this repeated aggression and to break the unfair besieging of these brave people," the statement said, without giving details of the proposed stance.