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Across Mideast, thousands protest Israeli assault

Crowds of thousands swept into the streets of cities around the Middle East on Sunday to shout down Israel's air assault on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

world Updated: Dec 28, 2008 19:05 IST

Crowds of thousands swept into the streets of cities around the Middle East on Sunday to shout down Israel's air assault on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

From Lebanon to Iran, Israel's adversaries used the weekend assault to marshal crowds out onto the streets for noisy demonstrations. And among regional allies there was also discontent: Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the air assault a "crime against humanity."

Several of Sunday's protests turned violent. A crowd of protesters in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul became a target for a suicide bomber on a bicycle.

In Lebanon, police fired tear gas to stop dozens of demonstrators from reaching the Egyptian Embassy. Some in the crowd hurled stones at the embassy compound. It was unclear if anyone was hurt. Egypt has been criticized for not doing enough to allow aid to pass through its border with Gaza.

Earlier in the Lebanese capital, a Hamas official roused a crowd of about 1,000 people topped by fluttering Lebanese and Palestinian flags, promising victory, resistance and ruling out surrender. His speech was met with cries of "death to Israel" from the crowd. The demonstrators gathered outside the United Nations office in downtown Beirut. After an all-night emergency session in New York, the U.N.'s Security Council expressed serious concern at the escalating situation in Gaza and called on Israel and the Palestinians to immediately halt all violence.

Hamas representative Osama Hamdan told the crowd that the militant group had no choice but to fight. Gaza militants have been lobbing dozens of rockets and mortars into southern Israel since a six-month truce expired over a week ago, prompting Israel's fierce retaliation.

"We in the Hamas group and other resistance factions in Gaza know that we don't have many alternatives. We have one alternative which is to be steadfast and resist and then we will be victorious," Hamdan said.

In the capital of neighboring Syria, more than 5,000 people marched toward the central Youssef al-Azmeh square, where they burned an Israeli and an American flag.

One demonstrator carried a banner reading, "The aggression against Gaza is an aggression against the whole Arab nation." "Down with America, the mother of terrorism," read another. In Amman, Jordan, about 5,000 lawyers marched toward parliament to demand the Israeli ambassador's expulsion and the closure of the embassy. "No for peace, yes to the rifle," they chanted. In Jordan's squalid Baqaa camp for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, protester Yassin Abu Taha, 32, blamed America and Israel for the Middle East's problems.

"The Israelis kill our people in Gaza and the West Bank. The Americans kill our people in Iraq. We're refugees, kicked out of our home in Tulkarem in 1967 and we're still displaced," he said, bemoaning his family's flight in the 1967 Mideast war. The U.S. Embassy in Jordan warned Americans to avoid areas of demonstrations.

Thousands of Egyptians _ many of them students _ demonstrated at campuses in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere and accused President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders of not doing enough to support the Palestinians.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said Israel should be "wiped off the map," denounced the Israeli strikes. And in the normally politically placid streets of glitzy Dubai, hundreds of demonstrators _ some draped in Palestinian flags _ gathered at the Palestinian consulate.

"This is a time for the Palestinians and Arabs to unite to fight against a common enemy," said Majdei Mansour, a 30-year-old Palestinian resident of Dubai. Mansour has family still in Gaza but said he's been unable to contact them since the latest fighting. In Iraq, where the government has also condemned the Gaza airstrikes, a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up amid a crowd of about 1,300 demonstrators in Mosul who were protesting against Israel, killing one demonstrator and wounding 16, Iraqi police said.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.