NEW YORK – The escalating violence in the Middle East spurred heated demonstrations across the nation, with protesters on either side of the conflict screaming chants, torching flags and even scuffling over their beliefs.
"This is to show support to Israel and to demonstrate against worldwide terrorism," said Lenny Brafman, 46, holding a banner made of American and Israeli flags at a rally Sunday near the United Nations.
One sign read: "Arafat Osama Terror," equating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with Usama bin Laden, the suspected fugitive leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
The New York rally came a day after hundreds of people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to demonstrate against Israeli actions in the occupied territories. Protesters carried signs and yelled chants that compared Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Adolf Hitler.
In Los Angeles, about 2,000 demonstrators chanted "Arafat's a Terrorist!" outside a federal building Sunday. At one point there was a tussle between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators, but police said there were no reports of major disturbances.
A day earlier, a pro-Palestinian rally in the same location drew hundreds of protesters.
In San Francisco, close to 500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets near San Francisco State University for several hours Sunday, yelling chants, burning paper Israeli flags and grabbing an Israeli flag out of the hands of a passing motorist who lofted it from her sunroof.
"Sharon, Sharon you can't hide, we charge you with genocide!" they chanted to a chorus of honks and beeps from passing cars. One Israel supporter carrying the country's flag charged the crowd, prompting police to break up a brief scuffle.
About 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators and a larger contingent of supporters of Israel traded taunts in Ohio at a rally in Blue Ash, a Cincinnati suburb.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee of Cleveland planned a vigil Monday night to protest what it calls "the military siege in Bethlehem."
In Boston, about 3,000 people gathered downtown Sunday for a "Stand with Israel" rally. The demonstrators, some with signs that read "America and Israel united against terrorism," marched toward the New England Holocaust Memorial. The crowd sang songs, read poems and listened to religious and political leaders.
A day earlier, about 1,000 Palestinian supporters had marched past Israel's downtown consulate in Boston. Some carried signs reading "Zionism Nazism,'' and others denounced support of Israel.
Rallies also were held Saturday in Miami and Crawford, Texas, where 1,200 people gathered blocks from where President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a news conference insisting Israel halt its escalating offensive in the West Bank and withdraw troops.