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Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Saturday, 3 January 2009

World protests at Gaza conflict

Protest in London
Organisers of the London protest said it was "just the start of the campaign"

Mass demonstrations are being held around the world in protest at Israel's military offensive against Hamas, as the campaign enters its second week.

Rallies are being held in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Athens and several Asian cities, following similar events in parts of the Muslim world on Friday.

Earlier, tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs called for an end to the bombing campaign at a rally in northern Israel.

US President George W Bush meanwhile blamed the violence firmly on Hamas.

He said Hamas was a terrorist organisation, backed by Iran and Syria, and dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Mr Bush said any ceasefire in Gaza should be monitored in order to halt the flow of smuggled weapons and prevent Hamas re-arming.

Earlier, the exiled political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, warned that a "black destiny" awaited Israeli forces if they launched a ground offensive.

Overnight, another commander of its military wing, Abu Zakaria al-Jamal, was killed in an air strike.

Israel has now carried out more than 700 strikes on Gaza since launching the offensive a week ago, the AFP news agency says.

The UN has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis, and believes 25% of more than 400 Palestinians killed by Israel so far were civilians.

'Just the start'

Thousands of people voiced their anger at the continued Israeli offensive in Gaza during a series of rallies across the world on Saturday.

The Israeli occupation forces is conducting crimes in Gaza before the eyes of the international community… We call for an immediate stop to the Gaza offensive
Sakhnin mayor Mazen Ghanaim

In central London, protesters - including the singer Annie Lennox and former mayor Ken Livingstone - marched along the Embankment to Trafalgar Square. Some chanted "Free, free Palestine" and "Israel terrorists".

Many stopped en route to throw hundreds of shoes at the gates of Downing Street, echoing the protest of an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush last month.

Lyndsey German, of the Stop the War Coalition, said the protest was "just the start of the campaign".

"If there is an invasion of Gaza, as looks likely, by the Israeli army, if the blockade continues with people suffering from shortages of food and medicine, then I think this will grow," she said.

Tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs earlier staged a protest in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin about the bombing raids on Gaza.

Protest in Sakhnin
The protest in Sakhnin was one of the biggest by Israeli Arabs in 10 years

Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags, and chanted slogans denouncing Israeli leaders, including "Gaza will not surrender to the tanks and bulldozers" and "Don't fear, Gaza, we are with you".

Following a minute's silence, Sakhnin mayor Mazen Ghanaim said the Israeli military was "committing crimes in Gaza before the eyes of the international community", but also called on militants to stop firing rockets into Israel.

One Israeli Arab politician, Jamal Zahalka, said it had been the biggest demonstration by Israel's Arab minority in the past 10 years.

There was also a large protest by Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Resistance 'intact'

Israeli air and naval forces continued to bomb and shell targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday. One person was killed as large parts of the American International School in the north-western town of Beit Lahiya were destroyed.

Israelis take cover after a rocket attack in Ashdod
Palestinian militants meanwhile fired more rockets into southern Israel

Israeli artillery later fired dozens of shells into the east of the territory, witnesses and Palestinian media said.

Palestinian militants meanwhile fired more rockets into Israel. One rocket hit the second largest port, Ashdod, 30km (19 miles) from the border with Gaza.

Maj Avital Leibowitz, a spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), said the offensive would continue until Hamas stopped its attacks. Four Israelis have been killed so far by rockets fired by militants in Gaza.

"From the beginning of this day, the eighth day of the operation, the air force and the navy have attacked 40 different targets. The targets are of course Hamas-affiliated," she told the BBC. "The school... was a site for launching rockets."

The Israeli government has also threatened to launch a ground offensive on Gaza. It has called up army reservists, and tanks and troops are massed on the frontier.

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen says a week of bombardment has not been able to stop militant rocket attacks, and Israel now has to decide whether to send in ground troops.

But in a pre-recorded statement broadcast on al-Jazeera TV, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said Israel would be making a "foolish mistake" if it did.

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Speaking publicly for the first time since Israeli air strikes started a week ago, he said Hamas resistance and infrastructure were intact.

"We will not break, we will not surrender or give in to your conditions," Mr Meshaal said in a speech in Damascus aimed at the Israelis, the Palestinians and the wider Muslim world.

To them, Mr Meshaal said, this was not a battle against Hamas alone, but against the entire "Umma", or Muslim community.

Israel is refusing to let international journalists into Gaza, despite a Supreme Court ruling to allow a limited number of reporters to enter the territory.

On Friday, the UN said the conflict had worsened the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, despite an increase in aid shipments.

Israel tightened its control of what gets in and out of the crowded coastal territory after Hamas seized control from the rival Fatah movement in June 2007.

Since then, there has been a significant deterioration in infrastructure and basic services, with 80% of the 1.4m population unable to support themselves, according to the UN.

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