KAILUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - A small group of placard-waving pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s vacation retreat in Hawaii on Tuesday to protest against the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
Obama has made no public comment on the strikes, which Israel launched on Saturday. Aides have repeatedly said he is monitoring the situation and continues to receive intelligence briefings but that there is only one U.S. president at a time.
But with outgoing Republican President George W. Bush already viewed as a lame-duck, many people, particularly in the Middle East, are looking past him to Obama, who is due to be sworn in on January 20, for leadership.
Obama did speak out after the attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai in November in which gunmen killed nearly 180 people, condemning them as acts of terrorism.
He has also spoken on the economic problems facing the United States.
“He is talking about how many jobs he is going to create but he is refusing to speak about this,” said one of the protesters, Carolyn Hadfield, 66.
She was one of eight protesters standing with placards reading “No U.S. support for Israel” and “Gazans need food and medicine, not war” near Obama’s rented vacation home in Kailua, an upmarket suburb on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where he is in the second week of a vacation with his family.
Obama did not acknowledge the protesters when his motorcade drove past to take him to play basketball at his old school. He stared straight ahead sipping from a bottle of water.
“The president-elect values citizen participation in our nation’s foreign policy, but there is one president at a time, and we intend to respect that,” said Brooke Anderson, his chief national security spokesperson.
Obama has in the past called Israel one of the United States’ greatest allies and has vowed to ensure the security of the Jewish state.
He has also said he would make a sustained push to achieve the goal of two states — a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state.
Israel on Tuesday pressed on with air strikes in Gaza that it says are in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants deep inside the Jewish state. Medical officials put Palestinian casualties at 383 dead and more than 800 wounded.
“We are very upset with what is going in Palestine. There is a very great need for change in U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine. We need to stop giving Israel a blank check,” said another protester, Margaret Brown, 66.
The protesters were rebuffed when they tried to hand a letter signed by dozens of U.S. activist groups to a Secret Service agent guarding the access road to Obama’s beachfront compound.
The Bush administration has backed Israel’s actions in Gaza and demanded the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to a lasting ceasefire.
In Washington, several hundred pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the State Department, waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans such as “free Palestine” while police looked on but took no action.
Reporting by Ross Colvin; Editing by Chris Wilson