CAIRO Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets on Friday to push their military rulers to do more to help Palestinians following the overthrow of the country's president Hosni Mubarak.
Many Egyptians felt Mubarak, a U.S. ally, was too soft on Israel and want their new government to take a much stronger pro-Palestinian stand.
The gatherings in Cairo, Alexandria and El-Arish come amidst preparations by activists to organize a march to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, May 15 -- which Palestinians mark as the anniversary of their 1948 displacement following the establishment of Israel.
Egyptian authorities have banned the march, saying the timing was inappropriate given sectarian tensions in Egypt.
The government deployed army and police to prevent demonstrators from crossing the Suez Canal to Sinai -- the route they would have to take to reach the Gaza Strip, witnesses said.
"We are demonstrating to show that the Palestinian cause is in the heart of all Muslims," said Sameh Abu Bakr, an agriculture engineer, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which was decked with red, white, black and green Palestinian flags.
The square was at the epicenter of the February uprising that drove Mubarak from power.
One sign read: "The people want the opening of the Rafah crossing, fully and permanently."
Egypt has said it plans to open the crossing into Gaza permanently, but has yet to do so. Mubarak was accused of participating in an Israeli blockade on Gaza by shutting the border.
"We want to show the world the inhumane way Israel treats Palestinians," said demonstrator Hassan Yusri, standing next to the Rafah sign.
Hundreds marched in El-Arish in Sinai after Friday prayers, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, thousands marched to the Israeli consulate after dawn prayers at one of the city's main mosques, chanting: "With our souls, with our blood, we redeem you Palestine."
"We are here today to show our support for the Palestinian cause," said Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a 22-year-old activist. "The victory of our revolution will not be complete without the liberation of Palestine," he added.
The official MENA news agency quoted Mustafa Reda Amin, the secretary-general of a youth alliance that helped oust Mubarak, saying organizers contracted 20 buses to take demonstrators to Sinai.
One Egyptian security source said the authorities had decided to restrict entry to Sinai to commercial trucks and residents of the Sinai Peninsula and stepped up security on all access points to Sinai.
"We want to prevent large numbers of people from entering Sinai for the day of the Great March," one source said.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. The ruling military council has pledged to honor the peace treaty.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Werr in Cairo, Yusri Mohammed in El-Arish and Abdelrahman Youssef; Editing by Andrew Heavens)