Thousands Protest 'Offensive' Cartoons in Gaza

Published February 03, 2006

| Associated Press

Tens of thousands of angry Muslims marched through Palestinian cities, burning the Danish flag and calling for vengeance Friday against European countries where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were published.

Angry protests against the drawings were spread in the Muslim world.

In Iraq, thousands demonstrated after Friday mosque services, and the country's leading Shiite cleric denounced the drawings. About 4,500 people rallied in Basra and hundreds at a Baghdad mosque. Danish flags were burned at both demonstrations.

Muslims in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia demonstrated against the European nations whose papers published them.

The caricatures, including one depicting the Muslim prophet wearing a turban fashioned into a bomb, were reprinted in papers in Norwegian, French, German and even Jordanian after first appearing in a Danish paper in September. The drawings were republished after Muslims decried the images as insulting to their prophet. Dutch-language newspapers in Belgium and two Italian right-wing papers reprinted the drawings Friday.

Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Koran and the sayings of the prophet, forbids depiction's of the Prophet Muhammad and other major religious figures — even positive ones — to prevent idolatry. Shiite Muslim clerics differ in that they allow images of their greatest saint, Ali, the prophet's son-in-law, though not Muhammad.

Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen, in a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador, reiterated his stance that the government cannot interfere with issues concerning the press. On Monday, he said his government could not apologize on behalf of a newspaper, but that he personally "never would have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious character in a way that could offend other people."

Early Friday, Palestinian militants threw a bomb at a French cultural center in Gaza City, and many Palestinians began boycotting European goods, especially those from Denmark.

"Whoever defames our prophet should be executed," said Ismail Hassan, 37, a tailor who marched through the pouring rain along with hundreds of others in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up," protesters in Ramallah chanted.

In mosques throughout Palestinian cities, clerics condemned the cartoons. An imam at the Omari Mosque in Gaza City told 9,000 worshippers that those behind the drawings should have their heads cut off.

"If they want a war of religions, we are ready," Hassan Sharaf, an imam in Nablus, said in his sermon.

About 10,000 demonstrators, including gunmen from the Islamic militant group Hamas firing in the air, marched through Gaza City to the Palestinian legislature, where they climbed on the roof, waving green Hamas banners.

"We are ready to redeem you with our souls and our blood our beloved prophet," they chanted. "Down, Down Denmark."

Thousands of protesters in the center of Nablus burned at least 10 Danish flags. In Jenin, about 1,500 people demonstrated, burning Danish dairy products. Hundreds protested in Jericho, and protests were held in towns throughout Gaza.

Fearing an outbreak of violence, Israel barred all Palestinians under age 45 from praying at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site.

Nevertheless, about 100 men chanting Islamic slogans and carrying a green Hamas flag demonstrated outside Jerusalem's Old City on Friday afternoon. The crowd scattered when police on horseback arrived, and some of the protesters threw rocks. Police broke up a second demonstration at Damascus Gate with tear gas and stun grenades.

In Iraq, the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, decried the drawings but did not call for protests.

"We strongly denounce and condemn this horrific action," he said in a statement posted on his Web site and dated Tuesday.

Al-Sistani, who wields enormous influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, made no call for protests and suggested that militant Muslims were partly to blame for distorting Islam's image.

He referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community and said their actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."

"Enemies have exploited this ... to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds with new methods and mechanisms," he said.

The drawings were first published in September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The issue reignited last week after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark and many European newspapers reprinted them this week.

The Jyllands-Posten had asked 40 cartoonists to draw images of the prophet. The purpose, its chief editor said, was "to examine whether people would succumb to self-censorship, as we have seen in other cases when it comes to Muslim issues."

The 12 caricatures have prompted boycotts of Danish goods, bomb threats and demonstrations in front of Danish embassies across the Islamic world. Muslims have also directed their anger at other European countries, with Palestinian gunmen briefly kidnapping a German citizen Thursday and surrounding European Union headquarters in Gaza.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying the caricatures are an attack on "our spiritual values" which have damaged efforts to establish an alliance between the Muslim world and Europe.

Hundreds of Turks emerging from mosques following Friday prayers staged demonstrations, including one in front of the Danish consulate in Istanbul.

"Hands that reach Islam must be broken," chanted a group of extremists outside the Merkez Mosque in Istanbul.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, more than 150 hardline Muslims stormed a high-rise building housing the Danish Embassy on Friday and tore down and burned the country's flag.

Pakistan's parliament unanimously voted to condemn the drawings as a "vicious, outrageous and provocative campaign" that has "hurt the faith and feelings of Muslims all over the world." About 800 people protested in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, chanting "Death to Denmark" and "Death to France." Another rally in the southern city of Karachi drew 1,200 people.

Fundamentalist Muslims protested outside the Danish Embassy in Malaysia, chanting "Long live Islam, destroy our enemies."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized European media outlets for republishing the caricatures as demonstrators prepared to take to the streets of London.

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