Protests Against Gaza Operations Grow

Across the Arab and Muslim worlds, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets today in anger at Israel, the United States and pro-American Arab governments. Record crowds turned out in countries like Egypt and Libya, but there were also protests in Europe.

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Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the Israeli attacks in Gaza. Demonstrations were staged across the Arab and Muslim world, revealing what appear to be new levels of anger at Israel, America and pro-U.S. Arab states such as Egypt. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.

PETER KENYON: Residents of the wealthy and tightly controlled Gulf state of Qatar have rarely seen passionate political protest in their own streets. But when Sheikh Youssef Alkaradawi called for a day of rage against Israel's continued pounding of Hamas targets in Gaza, a huge rally developed. Local journalists called it an unprecedented display of public animosity toward the Jewish state.

(Soundbite of protests)

Unidentified Speaker: (Arabic spoken).

KENYON: Stop supporting the Jews, says this speaker, who added, quote, "stop giving them weapons so we can fight the Jews." This is a war from the days of our grandfathers, he said, that will never end because it knows no boundaries. Analysts said it was shocking to hear such sentiments in a normally quiet Gulf state that has had trade relations with Israel since 1996. Themes of violence and revenge were woven through a number of today's rallies. Despite the desperate situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, there were large anti-Israeli demonstrations in both of those countries today. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Iraq, and they heard a statement from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, calling for revenge attacks against the United States, which Sadr described as the biggest partner of the Zionist enemy. In Turkey, tens of thousands gathered at Istanbul's majestic blue mosque.

(Soundbite of protests)

Unidentified Speaker: (Turkish spoken).

KENYON: Some carried signs equating the Israeli Star of David with the Nazi swastika, a particularly hateful insult to many Israelis. The anger was not aimed solely at Israel. In Jakarta, Indonesia, some 200 protesters were arrested trying to reach the Egyptian embassy. Egypt has faced scathing criticism for refusing to open its border with Gaza except to certain medical and humanitarian aid. That sentiment was echoed here in Egypt in a surprisingly large protest in the port city of Alexandria. Demonstrators apologized to Gazans for their government's inaction, saying the decision to open the border was not in their hands.

(Soundbite of protests)

KENYON: In Amman, Jordan, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse stone-throwing protesters marching on the Israeli embassy. Clashes with security forces also occurred in the Palestinian West Bank, in addition to fights between Hamas supporters and backers of the secular Fatah movement. Police also quelled protest in Cairo. Even as Egypt finally relented on one front, journalists at the Egypt Gaza border reported that more than two dozen doctors, many of them Egyptian, were finally allowed to cross into Gaza to provide a bit relief to their exhausted and overwhelmed Palestinian colleagues. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.

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