JACKI LYDEN, Host:
LYDEN: As the death toll in Gaza mounted, angry protests erupted around the Arab and Muslim world today. Demonstrators vented their fury at both Israel and the Arab leaders who have in their eyes have put their own political concerns ahead of the Palestinian cause. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.
PETER KENYON: From Turkey to Indonesia, the calls of outrage rang out. After seeing hourly images of bleeding Palestinians, demonstrators took to the streets in Damascus, Amman and Cairo.
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KENYON: Students at Cairo University said they were standing up to support the Palestinians because their government had failed to. In Beirut, police had to use tear gas to get demonstrators to stop stoning the Egyptian embassy. Egypt has been sharply criticized for agreeing to keep its border with Gaza closed, thus in the eyes of critics, aiding and abetting the Israeli blockade. As Gaza hospitals were quickly overrun, Egypt ordered the crossing opened, but later blamed Hamas for failing to let wounded Palestinians out to receive treatment in Egypt. Finally today, the border was briefly opened, and ambulances and trucks filled with medical and humanitarian supplies rolled into southern Gaza. The shock of the large-scale military operation has thrown into sharp relief Arab divisions that have been partially submerged under diplomatic rhetoric until now. One of the first to feel the glare was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who came to Cairo and dismayed his Arab audience by blaming Hamas for the bloodshed in Gaza. Abbas spoke through a translator.
President MAHMOUD ABBAS (President, Palestinian Authority): (Through Translator) Let me say this clearly. We contacted Hamas and spoke to them bluntly. We spoke to them on the phone and told them, we pleaded, please do not end the cease-fire. Let it continue, so we can avert what has now happened, and how I wish we had.
KENYON: Abbas has always been a pragmatic politician, more interested in securing real achievements for his people than in being their hero. But today's comments prompted many Arabs to see him as siding with the Israeli-U.S. camp, alongside an uneasy Egypt. In Iran, which has financed and supported Hamas for years, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa, or religious decree, ordering Muslims everywhere to defend Gazans in any way possible. Hamas' leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal was more specific. In an interview with the Al-Jazeera satellite channel, Meshaal sought to make this weekend the birth date of a third Palestinian intifada against Israel, to follow the uprisings of 1987 and 2000.
Mr. KHALED MESHAAL (Leader, Hamas): (Through Translator) There is no path except that of martyrdom - armed resistance and martyrdom operations. This is what will support Gaza. This is what will lift the oppression from you. We do not take up arms except in the face of the Zionist enemy. I call upon you to uprise. This is the time for the third intifada.
KENYON: Some analysts doubt the Palestinians are ready for another mass uprising, given the divisions between the secular Fatah movement and the Islamists of Hamas. But others wonder if the bloody events now unfolding in Gaza will inspire more violence, not less. Peter Kenyon NPR News, Cairo.
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