Friday, January 2, 2009

Egypt and Jordan crack down on anti-Israel rallies

Fri Jan 2, 2009

By Richard Meares

LONDON (Reuters) - Jordanian and Egyptian riot police cracked down on Friday on protesters demanding an end to Israel's attacks on Gaza and to ties with the Jewish state.

Israel's week-old offensive has sparked daily protests around the world and Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, also saw angry demonstrations in Kashmir, Turkey and Iraq.

Jordanian police fired tear gas to push back hundreds of people marching on the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman.

Chanting "No Jewish embassy on Arab land," worshippers set off from a mosque to the nearby Israeli embassy. Police fired tear gas at around 1,500 demonstrators, forcing them to retreat, and beat and arrested several of them.

Protesters chanted slogans backing the Islamic militant group Hamas that controls Gaza. "Revenge ... revenge ... Hamas, bomb Tel Aviv," they shouted.

Watched by riot police, at least 60,000 people headed later to Amman sports stadium for the largest rally in decades by the opposition Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader told a cheering crowd Palestinians should intensify an uprising against Israel.

In Cairo, police beat opposition Islamists with batons when they tried to stage a rally downtown, witnesses said.

A rally in the costal town of El-Arish in North Sinai turned violent when protesters tried to force their way through a police cordon.

"People charged at the police and pelted them with rocks," a Reuters witness said. "Police started rounding people up and beating them."

Egypt's protests were called by the Brotherhood, the main opposition group which has historical and ideological ties to Hamas.

"This will not prevent us from declaring our anger and expressing our solidarity with the Palestinian people," Mohamed Habib, the Brotherhood deputy leader, told Reuters. He said Egypt should break off diplomatic and economic ties with Israel.


Egypt and Jordan both have peace treaties with Israel, and their diplomatic ties with it often prompt accusations of a sell-out from other Muslims and Arabs.

Protesters in countries such as Lebanon, Yemen and Iran accuse Egypt of cooperating with Israel by refusing to open its border crossing with the Palestinian coastal strip.

Israel's offensive, one of the worst in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has killed more than 420 people. Israel says the attacks aim to stop Hamas firing rockets on towns in southern Israel, where four Israelis have died.

It sealed off the West Bank to deny entry to most Palestinians and beefed up security at checkpoints as people renewed protests across the occupied territory.

In Ramallah, Hamas supporters scuffled with the Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, taunting them as "collaborators." Elsewhere, protesters stoned soldiers at checkpoints and some were wounded by rubber bullets.

In Indian Kashmir at least 50 people were injured when baton-wielding police fired tear gas shells to disperse hundreds of Muslim protesters, police and witnesses said.

In the summer capital Srinagar, angry demonstrators shouting "Down with Zionist terrorism, down with Israel" burnt American and Israeli flags near Kashmir's grand mosque Jamia Masjid.

There were also demonstrations in New Delhi, Hyderabad and other Indian cities.


In mainly Muslim Turkey, thousands gathered outside an Istanbul mosque to condemn the attacks, which have prompted harsh government criticism against its close ally Israel.

Chanting "Damn Israel, Damn Zionism" up to 5,000 worshippers held a peaceful protest after prayers in Turkey's largest city.

About 200 Iraqi men and boys gathered for an indoor demonstration inside a Baghdad mosque, many wearing white headbands bearing the words "victory for Gaza." Banners read: "Gaza is in the hearts and minds of all Arabs."

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in the central square of the Austrian capital Vienna, freeing black and white balloons and holding pro-Palestinian signs. Bigger protests are expected in London, Dublin and elsewhere in Europe on Saturday.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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