Oct 13 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of protesters rallied across the Middle East and in parts of Asia and Europe on Friday in support of Palestinians and condemnation of Israel as it intensified its strikes on Gaza in retaliation for Hamas assaults.
Jewish communities in the United States, France and elsewhere also held rallies in solidarity with Israel after the Hamas assault from Gaza, the deadliest killing spree against Israeli civilians in the country’s 75-year history.
There has been strong support and sympathy for Israel from Western governments and many citizens over the Hamas attacks, but the Israeli response has also prompted anger, particularly in Arab and Muslim countries.
In Turkey, crowds gathered outside mosques chanting against Israel and saluting Hamas. In the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, 46-year-old business owner Mikail Bakan said: “All the Muslim world needs to be one against Israel.”
In Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, youths set fires on the streets and clashed with the Israeli military.
A huge Palestinian flag was passed overhead at a protest in Rome, and demonstrations took place in other European cities including in Braband in Denmark and in Berlin, where some protesters were detained by police.
Germany and France had banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations and several Western countries said they had stepped up security at synagogues and Jewish schools fearing that protests could lead to acts of violence.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, urged Palestinians to rise up in protest against Israel’s bombardment of the blockaded enclave, calling on them to march on Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The compound in East Jerusalem’s walled Old City is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina, and the most sacred to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. By 1700 GMT, no major incidents had been reported there.
Last weekend’s assault by Hamas – designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, European Union and other governments – on Israeli communities killed at least 1,300 people. Most were civilians, including women and children.
Israel has since been hammering Gaza with air strikes and artillery fire and more than 1,500 Palestinians have been killed. A ground invasion appears to be imminent.
Major U.S. cities from New York City to Los Angeles beefed up their police presence in Jewish and Muslim neighbourhoods.
In Washington, where a rally supporting Israel and the American Jewish community was scheduled to take place, police erected fencing around the Capitol complex. Tourists were being directed away from the building and kept on the sidewalk.
“Hamas wants to strike fear in the hearts of Jews worldwide and prevent us from going about our daily lives. We believe cancelling our rally would send the wrong message,” the organisers said in a statement.
PAIN ON BOTH SIDES
In Baghdad on Friday, tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied in central Tahrir Square, waving Palestinian flags and burning the Israeli flag while chanting anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli slogans.
“We are ready to join the fight and rid the Palestinians of the Israeli atrocities,” said Muntadhar Kareem, 25, a teacher.
He was dressed in a white shroud, like most of the protesters, to symbolise their readiness to fight to the death.
State-organised rallies were held across Iran – whose government is Hamas’ main backer and one of Israel’s principal foes – in support of the militant group, state TV reported.
“Death to Israel. Death to Zionism!” shouted demonstrators, many carrying Palestinian flags and those of the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem told a protest in Lebanon, the group was “fully ready” to contribute to the fighting. The group has already clashed with Israel across the Lebanese border in the past week.
In Indonesia, Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, joined dozens of people in a march against Israel in the Javanese city of Solo.
In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, activists protested against Israel’s actions after Friday prayers at the main mosque. Members of Japan’s Muslim community demonstrated near the Israeli embassy in Tokyo, holding signs and chanting “Israel, terrorist” and “Free Palestine”.
In Sri Lanka, protesters held up signs saying, “Palestine you will never walk alone”. Protesters also took to the streets in Bulgaria, Yemen, Cape Town, India’s Kashmir region, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt.
PRAYERS FOR PEACE
Jewish people were also due to hold vigils and rallies in support of Israel.
In Warsaw, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, was scheduled to lead a multi-confessional prayer for peace. Members of France’s Jewish community were to gather at the largest synagogue in Paris for the Sabbath.
On Thursday night, French police had fired teargas and water cannon to break up a banned rally in Paris in support of the Palestinians. The government banned pro-Palestinian protests, saying they were likely to lead to public disorder.
In the Netherlands, Jewish schools were closed for safety reasons, as were two Jewish schools in London.
Police in Britain’s capital said thousands of officers were carrying out extra patrols, visiting schools, synagogues and mosques. The boost reflected a significant increase in hate crime, particularly antisemitism, a police statement said.
Thousands of people were expected to take part in a March for Palestine on Saturday.
In Germany, activists from the radical youth environmentalist group the Last Generation cancelled protests they had planned, saying they did not want to distract police from their task of protecting Jews and Jewish institutions.
Source : reuters