Tags: hezbollah | gaza | protests

Hezbollah Stages Huge Protests in Lebanon

Monday, 29 Dec 2008 01:32 PM

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Tens of thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah supporters stood under pouring rain Monday to protest Israel's air assault on the Gaza Strip, which entered its third day.

The demonstrators thronged a huge square and nearby streets in the militant group's stronghold south of Beirut, carrying Palestinian, Lebanese and yellow Hezbollah flags and banners supporting the Palestinian people.

The rally was by far the largest protest in the Arab world, where outrage over Israel's air strikes has been strong since Israel first launched the assault Saturday.

The massive rally was called for by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who in a speech on Sunday urged crowds in the Arab and Islamic world to rise up in support of Gaza and declared Monday a day of mourning and solidarity with Gaza.

Addressing the crowds on Monday through a large screen from an unknown location, Nasrallah urged Palestinians to unite.

"Israel's air force will fail to destroy the will of the (Palestinian) fighters firing rockets ... and the residents of (Israeli) settlements 20 and 40 kilometers away from Gaza will remain either outside their settlements or in shelters," he said.

"Death to Israel," and "At your service, Gaza!" many in the crowd shouted.

Nasrallah warned Israel that any ground offensive into Gaza would result in many losses for the Israelis. He also warned Israel that it would fail as it did when it fought Hezbollah guerrillas in a monthlong air and ground offensive in 2006.

The overwhelming Israeli bombing campaign, the deadliest against Palestinians in decades, had killed more than 300 people.

In the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon, around 3,000 people also staged a demonstration, many of them chanting slogans insulting the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia for perceived complicity with Israel.

In Egypt, which has been criticized for joining Israel in closing its borders with Gaza, thousands of people rallied, calling for the intervention of Arab armies to protect the Palestinians. Demonstrations were held near the parliament building and in downtown Cairo as black-clad riot police stood by.

In the largest protest, which was organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, about 3,000 people gathered outside Cairo's journalist union building. In rare public appearance, the Islamists organization's Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef urged the crowd to make "their declaration of anger through peaceful means."

In Iran, a prominent conservative group of clerics announced it began registering volunteers on its Web site to fight against Israel in response to the attacks on Gaza.

The group, the Combatant Clergy Society, gave volunteers three options to fight Israel: military, financial and propaganda. About 3,550 signed up during the first day of the weeklong campaign, according to the group's Web site.

In neighboring Iraq, About 1,000 backers of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also staged a protest in eastern Baghdad. "No, no to Israel," they shouted as they burned Israeli and American flags.

Separately, the political party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement condemning the attacks and calling on Islamic countries to cut relations with Israel and end all "secret and public talks" with it.

Jordan's King Abdullah II also donated blood Monday for Gaza victims, telling reporters he was "upset" by the scale of the Israeli offensive in the coastal strip.

In Sudan, thousands rallied in Khartoum for a second day Monday over the Gaza attack, marching to the Egyptian embassy to call for an opening of the Egyptian-Gaza border for supplies and aid to the Palestinians. The protesters also marched to the U.N. headquarters where they handed in a protest note.

And in Greece, a mixed group of about 300 Arab and Greek protesters threw rocks at the Israeli embassy in Athens and scuffled with riot police during a demonstration organized by the Greek communist party.

There were also protests in Berlin, where about 2,000 marched through a central shopping district carrying Palestinian flags and banners saying Israel must end the Gaza blockade, and in London, where around 600 protested outside the Israeli embassy. Both those rallies passed peacefully.

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