Protesters across Middle East vent anger over Israel's attack on Gaza

Crowds chant expressions of solidarity with Palestinians at rallies from Iraq to Lebanon

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Thousands of people in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt gathered on Friday to condemn Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip, where a week of bombardment has killed nearly 1,800.

In Baghdad, tens of thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr chanted anti-Israel slogans and burnt its flag at a rally in Tahrir Square.

“Palestine is Arab and it is in our hearts and it is our cause,” Mr Al Sadr said in his Friday sermon, delivered in the square by an aide as military helicopters hovered overhead.

“The Zionist entity is determined to terrify the believers in our beloved Gaza with random shelling and to massacre civilians, including women and children.”

Mr Al Sadr called for financial donations and aid to be delivered to Gaza either through Syria or Egypt, and demanded the closure of Israeli embassies in Arab and Islamic countries.

“If we cannot, then that is a shameful stain on the forehead of Islam and Arab history,” he said.

Protesters take part in anti-Israeli demonstration in Baghdad

Protesters take part in anti-Israeli demonstration in Baghdad

Protesters waved Iraqi and Palestinian flags along with posters showing Mr Al Sadr. Most of them were wearing white shrouds, indicating they were willing to sacrifice their lives for Palestine. Some burned the Israeli flag and chanted: “No, no to Israel. Yes, yes to Palestine”.

“Palestine is in the heart of all Muslims around the world,” said Hassan Jawad, a 52-year old mathematics teacher who came to the rally with his two sons.

Ali Ahmed Jassim, 22, holding the Palestinian flag, said: “We are ready to march to Gaza and break the siege.

“We are capable to fighting shoulder to shoulder with Palestinian resistance factions and smashing the Zionist occupiers.”

Security forces had closed off main roads leading to the square while Mr Al Sadr's followers set up checkpoints to search people before they entered.

Iraq does not recognise Israel and both countries are technically still at war. Last year, Mr Al Sadr pushed for a law that would criminalise relations with Israel.

In Cairo, hundreds of protesters gathered inside the main courtyard of Al Azhar Mosque.

“We pledge our souls and our blood to Al Aqsa”, they chanted, referring to Islam's third holiest site in East Jerusalem.

Smaller protests took place around the mosque in Cairo’s historic Islamic quarter, with groups of people walking through the streets waving Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Israel slogans.

A protester at the mosque said security officials had initially tried to bar protesters from entering but were forced to relent due to the sheer size of the crowd.

Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, has mediated in previous flare-ups between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas that controls Gaza.

Current efforts have made no headway, as Israel says it intends to “obliterate” Hamas after its fighters killed more than 1,300 people, mainly civilians, in raids on areas near the Gaza border on October 7.

Protesters in Jordan, where a large proportion of the population is of Palestinian descent, marched after Friday prayers in front of the main mosque in central Amman, shouting slogans in support of Gaza and demanding authorities allow access to the border with Israel.

“Open the borders,” people shouted around the Grand Husseini Mosque. “To Jerusalem, in the millions.”

Thousands of people from all walks of life were at the demonstration, which was organised mainly by the Muslim Brotherhood – an organisation that is tolerated by the authorities in Jordan, unlike in most other Arab countries.

Raghida, a manager at an international charity with offices in Amman, said she came with her friends to “show solidarity with our people in Gaza”, although she felt there was a “strong presence” of Hamas supporters at the rally.

“The Gazans are being massacred in a genocidal campaign,” she said.

In Adassiya, a town on the road from Amman to the Jordan Valley, security forces fired tear gas to disperse a group of several hundred young men believed to have been seeking to assemble near the border with Israel.

Lebanon's army also prevented attempts to stage protests along its border with Israel in the Tyre region, where a number of Palestinian refugee camps are located.

Residents of Tyre's three camps attempted a demonstration in the Naqoura border area but were prevented by the Lebanese army.

“They should have at least let us go to Naqoura – it’s not even that close to the border,” one resident told The National.

“As Palestinians, we aren’t able to express ourselves.”

In the capital Beirut, thousands of Lebanese rallied in the southern suburbs, a stronghold for the Iran-backed Shiite armed group Hezbollah that is allied with Hamas.

Many carried both Hezbollah and Palestinian flags, along with portraits of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the late Iranian leader Gen Qassem Suleimani.

“The entire nation must engage, using available resources, in confronting Israel,” Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hezbollah's number two, told the gathering.

“We support and endorse the Operation Aqsa Deluge,” he said, using the name Hamas gave its recent attack on Israel.

The crowd of Hezbollah supporters chanted: “Nasrallah, our beloved, strike and destroy Israel.”

“We're here to support Palestine,” Mariame, a 27-year-old attending the protest with her son, told The National.

She said she did not fear war between Lebanon and Israel, a prospect raised by a recent flurry of border skirmishes involving Hezbollah and the Israeli military.

“If Israel continues to kill innocent people, there should be a war. We can't stand by watching them steal homes and kill innocent people while the international community stands by,” she said.

Maher, a 63-year-old demonstrator, said: “Israel has been committing crimes for decades with impunity, killing innocent people every day.

“No one wants war, but they have pushed us to a point that there is no other option to claim our rights. If Sayyed Nasrallah asks us to take up arms, I will do it.”

Updated: October 13, 2023, 8:39 PM