BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – Thousands of supporters of the militant Hezbollah group swarmed Beirut’s southern suburbs Friday, demanding Israel lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The Hezbollah’s supporters, including black-clad Shiite women with their children, waved flags and carried banners denouncing the Gaza blockade as they marched in the neighborhoods devastated by Israeli airstrikes in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.
Chants of “Death to America” and “Israel is the enemy of Muslims” rang out from the crowd. The protests were in response to a call by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to people across the Arab and Muslim world to help end the siege and support the Palestinians in Gaza.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power of it last year, ousting the forces of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The barrier was tightened last month when Gaza militants resumed firing rockets at Israel.
Addressing the Beirut crowd, Hezbollah deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassem called on Arab and Islamic governments to act to help lift the Gaza blockade and urged Egypt to take an “historic stance” and open its border crossing with Gaza. “Silence on the (Gaza) blockade is disgraceful. Silence on the blockade amounts to participation in the (Israeli) occupation,” Kassem said.
In the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, about 1,000 Hezbollah supporters protested the Gaza siege with a sit-in in the city’s main square, bringing traffic to a halt for about three hours. In Syria, about 3,000 Palestinian refugees also took part in a demonstration at the Sbeineh camp outside of the capital, Damascus.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zouhdi, who joined the demonstration in Syria, warned that any Israeli military escalation in Gaza would be met with a “tough” response by Hamas. He also urged Egypt to open the Rafah crossing, saying Friday’s protests were a “message of rage” against all parties contributing to the Gaza blockade, in a clear reference to Egypt.