Thousands Protest at U.S. Embassy in Beirut
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese and Palestinians shredded an American flag and clashed with security forces outside the fortified U.S. Embassy compound, one of many angry protests Wednesday throughout the Arab world against Israel and the United States.
About 25 people, including nine members of the security forces, were slightly hurt in a melee involving 5,000 people, mainly students, outside the suburban Beirut embassy. The injured were hit by stones or overcome by tear gas, police and witnesses said.
The scene was a replay of what has become a daily ritual since Friday, when Israel began invading Palestinian cities and confined Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to a few rooms in his West Bank headquarters. The military offensive seeks to crush Palestinian militias after a wave of daily, deadly terror attacks against Israelis.
Arabs have been venting anger at Israel and the United States, which they accuse of blindly supporting Israeli actions. They also are demanding their own governments take action.
Demonstrators also took to the streets Wednesday in the capitals of Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In Saudi Arabia — where demonstrations are banned — word emerged Wednesday of rare protests in support of the Palestinians.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that Saudi police rounded up about 300 demonstrators in the northern Jof province after a confrontation Tuesday with 3,000 Saudis who burned U.S. and Israeli flags in a pro-Palestinian march.
The protesters threw stones at police and security forces who had arrived to disperse them, the witnesses said on condition of anonymity. A smaller pro-Palestinian protest was held briefly in the Saudi capital of Riyadh late Tuesday, but it broke up before security forces arrived, witnesses there said.
On Wednesday, the official Saudi television read a terse statement from Interior Minister Prince Nayef denouncing an incident in Jof, without mentioning what it was.
Nayef said it was carried out by about 150 youths "driven by fervor over what is happening" in the Palestinian areas. "This behavior is unacceptable and will not be allowed to be repeated," he said, according to the statement.
In Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel, more than 2,000 students protested at the Cairo University campus, some raising Palestinian flags.
More than 1,000 students spilled out to the street but police prevented them from marching to the nearby Israeli Embassy. On campuses across Egypt, some 30,000 university students demonstrated, but no clashes were reported.
"There is no solution but war," said Ahmed Assem, 19, a student of economics and political science. "The least [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak could do is to expel the Israeli ambassador."
Many protesters have been calling on Egypt and Jordan to sever all relations with Israel. Egypt announced Wednesday that the government was limiting contacts with Israel to those that "serve the Palestinian cause."
The step fell short of cutting ties, and appeared largely symbolic since Israel and Egypt have little more in the way of relations than those political contacts used to try to defuse Israeli-Arab crises.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups six Gulf nations, issued a statement Wednesday urging the international community, and particularly the United States, to enforce implementation of a U.N. Security Council resolution passed Saturday that calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian towns, including Ramallah.
Lebanese lawmakers called on Arab countries to break relations with Israel. Prime Minister Rafik Hariri told a special session of Parliament that the Arab public feels "utter bitterness and insult" as a result of Israeli attacks on the Palestinians.
Hariri said the Bush administration should be "just" in its policies and try to end the Israeli attacks.
U.S. policy has been a chief target of demonstrators.
Clashes at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut began Wednesday when students carrying placards and waving Palestinian flags tried to march on the compound, cordoned off by hundreds of policemen and soldiers. Security forces fired tear gas and sprayed water. Demonstrators started throwing stones; policemen picked up stones and hit back.
In Amman, Jordanian riot police blocked about 50 demonstrators from approaching the U.S. Embassy compound.
In another Beirut protest, several thousand Lebanese and Palestinians from nationalist, communist and militant Islamic groups staged a noisy demonstration outside the downtown U.N. office.
Thousands also demonstrated outside U.N. offices in Baghdad, Iraq, burning Israeli flags and vowing to sacrifice themselves for the Palestinian cause. Similar but much smaller protests were held outside U.N. offices in Cairo and Tehran.
Maurice Motamed, the Iranian parliament's only Jewish legislator, told The Associated Press in Tehran that "the Jewish society of Iran has been one of the first Jewish communities around the world to condemn these attacks against Palestinians."