Arab protesters demand response to Gaza

BAGHDAD Sun Dec 28, 2008 4:25pm EST

1 of 10. Protesters burn an Israeli flag during a demonstration against Israel's attacks on Gaza, in Kuwait City December 28, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Stephanie McGehee

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Protesters burned Israeli and U.S. flags on Sunday in a string of Arab countries and demanded a stronger response from their leaders to Israel's attack on Gaza.

"Arab silence is behind the bombings," read a banner held by one of several thousand people who turned out in the Sunni Arab city of Samarra north of Baghdad.

The Israeli raids, some of the worst in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, incensed many in the Arab world, where many governments are seen by popular Islamist movements as collaborators with the United States or Israel.

"America and the Zionists are the leaders of world terrorism," read a placard held by protesters at the U.N. headquarters in the Lebanese capital Beirut. They demanded U.N. intervention to end the Israeli onslaught.

Similar protests were held in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, home to some 400,000 refugees displaced when Israel was established in 1948.

In Amman, Jordanian deputies burned an Israeli flag during a parliamentary session on Sunday to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

Deputies also demanded the kingdom, the second Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel, sever diplomatic ties with its neighbor and expel its ambassador.

In the second day of protests in the Jordanian capital, hundreds of people marched to the Egyptian embassy to demand Cairo throw open its border with Gaza, ending the blockade imposed on the coastal strip for much of the time since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006.

In the center of the Syrian capital Damascus, thousands of people carrying Palestinian and Syrian flags filled streets around a popular square, chanted anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli slogans and burned an American flag.

"Victory belongs to heroic Gaza," one banner said. "Until when will the Arab silence continue?" read another.

In Baladiyat, a Baghdad district inhabited by many Palestinians given refuge in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, men waved banners and condemned Arab nations for not doing enough to support Palestinians.

"We have been waiting for action from Arab leaders for almost 60 years," Jaleel al-Qasus, the Palestinian envoy to Iraq, said during the protest by several hundred people.

"Our efforts have been in vain."

Scores of protesters tried to approach the Egyptian embassy in Beirut to demand Egypt open up its borders to Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Police used tear gas to stop the demonstrators approaching.

In Egypt itself, protesters gathered in Cairo and five other towns, security sources said. They burned Israeli flags and carried placards denouncing Israel.

Scuffles broke out outside the Israeli embassy in London on after more than 700 demonstrators gathered to protest. Police said two or three people had been arrested but the Israeli embassy denied protesters had got into the embassy itself.

In Madrid, hundreds of Palestinians, Muslims and anti-war activists rallied outside the Israeli Embassy. Protesters waved placards that read "Israel Genocide."

SUICIDE BOMBER

A teenage boy was killed in one protest in the volatile northern Iraqi city of Mosul when a suicide bomber on a bicycle detonated explosives in a crowd of around 300 protesters.

It was not clear why the bomber would have targeted an anti-Israeli rally. Police said 17 people were wounded in the attack in Mosul.

Several thousand people protested in the Iraqi city of Samarra and a few hundred took to the streets in Falluja. Iraq hosted 30,000 Palestinian refugees before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the reclusive cleric who has influence among Shi'ites in Iraq, issued a statement condemning what he called a 'savage' operation.

"The Arab and Muslim world demand, more than ever, a practical stance to stop this never-ending offensive," it said.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious decree ordering Muslims around the world to defend Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks "in any way possible."

Several protests were held in Tehran, including one by Iranian lawmakers chanting "Death to Israel."

In Yemen, the ruling party organized a demonstration attended mainly by civil servants who agreed at a stadium in the capital Sanaa to send a ship with humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Protesters chanted, "Gaza, your blood is our blood!"

(Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki in Beirut, Aziz El-Kaissouni in Cairo, Juan Medina in Madrid, Jodie Ginsberg in London and Mohamed Ghobari in Sanaa; Writing by Missy Ryan and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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