January 9, 2009 / 4:44 PM / 11 years ago

Thousands of Jordanians stage pro-Gaza rallies

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Jordan deployed riot police and used teargas to disperse thousands of demonstrators planning to march on the heavily fortified Israeli embassy on Friday to protest against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

They were among tens of thousands taking to the streets across the country and security forces were out in a show of force around mosques and potential troublespots, witnesses said.

Protesters near the embassy in Amman’s Rabia district hurled stones at police and chanted slogans which have become customary at protests that call on Jordan, which along with Egypt, has diplomatic ties that often prompt accusations of a sell out.

"Expel the ambassador. No Zionist embassy on Jordanian land," they chanted.

Several protesters were beaten and arrested by police.

The clashes are the climax of nearly two weeks of demonstrations and rallies against Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Medics in Gaza say the Palestinian death toll is over 780. Ten soldiers have been killed in Israel’s campaign to crush Hamas forces and stop cross-border rocket fire — which has killed three Israeli civilians since the offensive began.

The demonstrations in Jordan are the most widespread since the 1990-91 Gulf War, when Jordanians took to the streets to express sympathy with Iraq.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians and Jordanians urged a jihad (holy struggle) after peaceful marches in downtown Amman and cities and refugee camps across the kingdom. Hundreds of mosques held prayers for those killed in the Gaza strip.

"O Martyrs your blood will not go in vain," angry youths carrying a large Palestinian flag shouted as others burnt U.S. and Israeli flags.

The protesters chanted slogans backing Hamas. "March ahead O’Hamas, against the occupiers ... we are your bullets. Revenge ... revenge ... O’ Hamas, bomb Tel Aviv," they shouted.

Most of Jordan’s 5 million citizens are of Palestinian origin, they or their parents having been expelled or fled to Jordan in the fighting that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948. (editing by Alison Williams)

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