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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 23:34 GMT
Gaza crisis fuels regional anger
By Crispin Thorold
BBC News, Amman

Palestinians hold candles during a protest against fuel shortages 20.01.08
Images of Palestinian protests have been beamed across the region

For pan-Arab news networks like al-Jazeera there has only been one story of significance in the past few days.

Pictures of Gaza's darkened streets have dominated television screens in the Arab World, with Palestinian pleas for support echoing across the region.

"O Arabs! O Muslims! O humanity!" cried a young girl in a Gaza crowd interviewed by al-Jazeera. "Is it a disgrace to tell the truth openly?"

When a correspondent for the Qatar-based channel said the Israeli response to continued rocket attacks by Palestinian militants was "a collective punishment", his script reflected the sentiments of Arab leaders.

That phrase has been repeated by governments from Riyadh to Damascus, including several that participated in the recent US conference that had been heralded as the start of a major Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.

Saudi aid boosted

Saudi Arabia's cabinet announced it would increase humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, Reuters reported.

"Saudi Arabia is extremely concerned about Israeli violations and Israel's practice of the most brutal form of group punishment in the Gaza Strip and West Bank," said a cabinet statement.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry called for "an immediate end to the collective punishment and the Israeli crimes".

Israel was violating the "simplest rules of human rights", Damascus said.

In Lebanon and Jordan, two countries with significant numbers of Palestinian refugees, there were demonstrations against the Israeli blockade.

Ein el-Helweh - the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon - was the scene for one of the most passionate gatherings.

Women wearing black called for suicide attacks in Tel Aviv and burned Israeli and American flags as several thousand people marched through the streets.

Genocide claims

Protests in Jordan have been smaller, but the rhetoric has also been powerful. The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front, organized several demonstrations.

Palestinian women and children burn an Israeli flag during a protest in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp near the city of Sidon on Monday
Israeli flags have been burnt during region-wide protests
Local news reports said crowds called on the government to cut diplomatic ties with Israel.

A demonstration led by the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, ended outside parliament.

The sentiments of the chanting crowds in Jordan and Lebanon have been echoed by the leaders of Islamist parties.

In an interview with al-Alam, an Iranian-based Arabic news channel, a spokesman for the Jordanian Islamic Action Front referred to the events in Gaza as "genocide and [the] killing of [an] entire people, one and a half million of the sons of Gaza, of the sons of Palestine".

Diplomatic ties tested

While the number of people protesting on Arab streets has been relatively small there is little doubt that many in the region have great sympathy for the residents of Gaza.

Their latent support for the Palestinians is being fuelled by the images being beamed by satellite from Gaza.

Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries which have diplomatic ties with Israel, and both governments have condemned the latest Israeli operations.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak telephoned both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak to demand that Israel stop its operations in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian news agency MENA reported.

Even Jordan's Queen Rania, who is of Palestinian origin, took the relatively unusual step of urging the international community to stop the "collective punishment" of Gaza's residents.

The Queen called for "intensified efforts to provide all possible assistance to our people there".

Gaza City in darkness

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