Muslim nations condemn Israel offensive
AFP - 55 minutes ago
PARIS (AFP) - - Muslim nations angrily condemned Israel on Monday over air attacks on the Gaza Strip which have killed more than 300 Palestinians while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon deplored the violence.
Anti-Israel demonstrations were held in many countries following a series of protests over the weekend, and efforts to hold talks between Syria and Israel were suspended.
International powers renewed calls for a ceasefire, but US President George W. Bush and president-elect Barack Obama remained silent on the fighting itself.
Thousands of Iranians, joined by high-ranking Iranian officials and military commanders, shouted "Down With USA" and "Down With Israel" in Tehran on Monday. Many carried banners reading "Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth" and "We should all rise and destroy Israel."
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday urged Muslim states to punish Israel. Tehran is a staunch supporter of Hamas but rejects allegations that it supplies arms to the movement.
South Africa summoned the Israeli Ambassador to express its "grave concern" at "the brutal assault" on Gaza , an official statement said.
Deputy foreign minister Fatima Hajaig told ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg that the operation constituted "a gross violation of the rights of the people of Gaza," and called on Israel to halt the aggression, said the text.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Hamas for its firing of rockets into Israel and the abandonment of its ceasfire, her spokesman said Monday.
In a telephone call on Sunday evening, Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed that responsibility "clearly and exclusively lies with Hamas," spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters.
Demonstrations have been held around the world since the Israeli offensive started Saturday. Arrests were made during protests in European capitals on Sunday, including 10 in London.
About 8,000 people staged a rally in the southern Egyptian city of Assiut on Sunday, while several thousand attended rallies in the capital Cairo and the port city of Alexandria, a security official said.
In Turkey, thousands of people joined demonstrations in about a dozen cities. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Turkish-mediated indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria had become "impossible" after the Israeli offensive.
In Syria, protesters burned Israeli and American flags as thousands demonstrated in Damascus on Sunday. There were similar scenes in the Jordanian capital Amman where hundreds gathered to demand the closure of the Israeli embassy.
Saudi Arabia sent two hospital aircraft with medical personnel to Gaza to help the injured and to evacuate the severely wounded to its hospitals, the Saudi government said.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, also offered medical aid, and joined Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia and other Muslim nations in condemning Israel.
There were fresh calls for a halt to the fighting, which erupted after the breakdown of a truce between Israel and Hamas.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "deplores that violence is continuing today, and he strongly urges once again an immediate stop to all acts of violence," his spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement issued late Sunday.
The UN Security Council issued a non-binding statement calling for "an immediate halt to all violence." The European Union has also called for a ceasefire.
China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement: "The Chinese side is shocked and seriously concerned over the current military operations in Gaza that have caused a large number of deaths and injuries."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned the Middle East was facing a "dangerous and dark moment" and renewed his call for an end to the fighting.
Miliband told BBC radio: "I think that any innocent loss of life is unacceptable and in this case there have been massive casualties, some of them civilians and some of them children."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Livni to "urgently halt" the military action.
David Axelrod, a top aide to Barack Obama, told CBS television the US president-elect was committed to achieving peace in the Middle East.
The outgoing Bush administration blamed Hamas "thugs" for provoking the offensive by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.
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