LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of demonstrators marched through London and hundreds more gathered in Amsterdam and Chicago on Saturday to protest against Israeli attacks in Lebanon and the refusal of the U.S. and British governments to condemn them.
Police said around 7,000 people joined the London protest as it snaked from the banks of the Thames to Hyde Park, first in brilliant sunshine and then in torrential rain.
Many carried red and white Lebanese flags and placards condemning “Israeli crimes in Lebanon.”
“We are all Hizbollah. Boycott Israel” read one. “Axis of evil: Bush, Blair, Olmert,” read another, referring to the political leaders of the United States, Britain and Israel.
“Having seen the devastation on our TV screens in recent days, it’s impossible to view the Israeli response as anything other than a gross overreaction said Yasmin Ataullah, spokeswoman for the British Muslim Initiative, one of the groups behind the rally.
Hundreds more protesters took to the streets of Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle and Sheffield.
In the United States, several hundred demonstrators gathered in bright sunshine in downtown Chicago for a rally to protest Israeli military actions in Lebanon and Gaza.
Protesters carried banners proclaiming “The Right to Fight Or The Might to Smite,” or “Not with our money, not in our name.”
“I’m outraged as an American, I’m outraged as a human being at what is happening to the people of Lebanon,” said Dale Lehman, a 60-year-old Jewish resident of Chicago.
Nader Ismail, a computer engineer of Palestinian origin resident in Chicago for a decade, said he had come to protest the “collective punishment inflicted on the Lebanese civilian population by Israel.”
“All Israel is doing is feeding anger across the Middle East and they won’t get peace that way,” he added. “The only way they can achieve peace now is to sit down at the negotiating table.”
A small counter-protest of perhaps a half dozen people demonstrated in support of Israel over the road from the main rally.
The main Chicago rally was organized by the American Council on American-Islamic Relations.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said this was the only rally planned in the United States for Saturday, but comes a day after an interfaith prayer service in Detroit.
Later on Saturday CAIR planned a children’s candlelit vigil in Tempe, Arizona for Lebanese civilians killed since Israeli military operations began, Hooper said.
In Amsterdam, around 700 people gathered near Dam Square to condemn the Israeli assault, which has killed 349 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, in the past 11 days.
“We will win against the biggest terrorists in the world,” said Ali Nasraka Afyouni, a 23-year-old who left southern Lebanon for the Netherlands seven years ago.
The protest came two days after around 2,000 pro-Israeli demonstrators gathered in Amsterdam.
A similar show of solidarity with Israel is planned near London Sunday evening and will be addressed by Britain’s chief rabbi.
“Israel has the right to defend itself against unprovoked attacks on sovereign soil,” said Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Much of the anger on Saturday’s London protest was directed at the British government for its refusal to openly condemn Israel’s actions and call for an immediate ceasefire.
“We’re disgusted by the way the U.S. and Britain have isolated themselves from the rest of the international community,” Ataullah said.
Speaking in Beirut, Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells made the strongest criticism yet of Israel by a British government minister.
“These have not been surgical strikes. It’s very, very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used,” he told reporters.
“You know, if they’re chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.”
(Additional reporting by Reed Stevenson in Amsterdam and Nick Carey in Chicago)
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