Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the Arab world to protest against the Israeli offensive and to call for a stronger reaction from their leaders. In Beirut, protesters tried to break through barricades to reach the Egyptian Embassy. Police fired tear gas to stop their approach. The demonstrators called on Egypt to break off relations with the Jewish state and end its blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas won elections two years ago. A spokesman for Hamas has accused Egypt of being complicit in the Israeli raids.
In Egypt itself, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the capital and other towns. They carried placards denouncing Israel and burnt Israeli flags. But Egypt and its Palestinian allies in the Fatah movement have laid the blame for the latest violence at Hamas’ door. After meeting with President Hosni Mubarek in Cairo, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called on the Islamic group to avoid further bloodshed in Gaza, by accepting a ceasefire.
But he said efforts to ensure this had so far failed: “We have made direct and indirect contact with the Hamas leaders to renew the truce with Israel, but they have refused. It has cost the lives of hundreds of Palestinians. If they had accepted we would have avoided these attacks.”
Thousands protested too in Iraq, their banners reading, “Arab silence is behind the bombings”. Iran’s Supreme Leader has ordered Muslims to defend Gaza’s occupants in any way possible. Still a proposal to hold an Arab summit on the crisis, diplomats say, is meeting resistance.