By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, Feb 15 (Reuters) - A man-sized talking rabbit appeared on television in Gaza on Friday to denounce Danish newspapers over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that offended Muslims.
The latest in a line of cartoon-inspired characters that take the message of the Hamas Islamist movement to Palestinian children, the actor in the Bugs Bunny-style outfit also railed against "Zionist filth" and Israel’s control of Jerusalem.
The Friday show "Tomorrow’s Pioneers" on Hamas’s al-Aqsa channel has become a weekend fixture for pre-teens since shortly before the Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip last year.
A Mickey Mouse-type creation provoked outcry in Israel and was condemned elsewhere as inciting hatred among the young. The mouse, eventually shown being beaten to death by an Israeli, was followed by a talking bee and, now, by Assud the rabbit.
"I want the West to hear this. I want the Danes who offended the great Prophet to hear it," the rabbit said, gesturing to viewers after the show’s co-presenter, a girl of about 12 named Sarra, condemned Danish newspapers for reprinting the cartoons after police accused several men of plotting to kill the artist.
"Where are you Muslims? Where are you Arabs?" said Sarra, wearing a headscarf and speaking with precocious eloquence.
"We are all a sacrifice for the Prophet. The soldiers of Tomorrow’s Pioneers will redeem the Prophet with all they have."
Earlier, several thousand Hamas supporters demonstrated in Gaza over the cartoons, which were first published in 2005.
Returning to the show’s favoured theme of explaining Hamas’s goal of an Islamic state in all the area now divided between Israel and the Palestinians, the rabbit told viewers they would recover Jerusalem’s holiest Muslim site and cities in Israel:
"We will liberate al-Aqsa mosque from the Zionists’ filth," said Assud, whose name means Little Lion. "We will liberate Jaffa and Acre. Will liberate the whole homeland."
Though some parents are uneasy about the show’s message it has proved popular with children, not only in Hamas-controlled Gaza but also in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. One girl called Rasha said she was phoning in from Bethlehem, near Jerusalem:
"Who has sabotaged the world if not the Zionist plans?" she sang down the line to the studio in Gaza. Dancing and singing along, Assud the rabbit chimed in: "They have bombarded us." (Editing by Alastair Macdonald)