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Thousands turn out for demonstrations

Monday, April 8, 2002

NEW YORK -- Thousands of demonstrators filled a city block near the United Nations on Sunday to support Israel in its military offensive in the West Bank on a weekend that has drawn protesters from both sides of the conflict to the streets nationwide.

Police checked inside coats and backpacks as demonstrators were admitted past metal barriers to the rally scene in midtown Manhattan.

"This is to show support to Israel and to demonstrate against worldwide terrorism," said Lenny Brafman, 46, holding a banner made of U.S. and Israeli flags.

One sign read: "Arafat Osama Terror," equating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with Osama bin Laden, the suspected, fugitive leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

In Los Angeles, about 2,000 demonstrators chanted "Arafat's a Terrorist!" outside a federal building. At one point there was a tussle between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine demonstrators, but police said there were no reports of major disturbances.

The rally came a day after a pro-Palestine rally in the same location that drew hundreds of protesters.

In San Francisco, close to 500 pro-Palestine demonstrators took to the streets near San Francisco State University for several hours, yelling chants, burning paper Israeli flags and grabbing an Israeli flag out of the hands of a passing motorist who lofted it from her sunroof.

"Sharon, Sharon you can't hide, we charge you with genocide!" they chanted to a chorus of honks and beeps from passing cars. One Israel supporter carrying the country's flag charged the crowd, prompting police to break up a brief scuffle.

The New York rally came a day after hundreds of people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to demonstrate against Israeli actions in the occupied territories. Protesters carried signs and yelled chants that compared Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Adolf Hitler.

In Boston, about 3,000 people gathered downtown Sunday for a "Stand with Israel" rally. The demonstrators, some with signs that read "America and Israel united against terrorism," marched toward the New England Holocaust Memorial. The crowd sang songs, read poems and listened to religious and political leaders.

A day earlier, about 1,000 Palestinian supporters had marched past Israel's downtown consulate in Boston. Some carried signs reading "ZionismNazism," and others denounced support of Israel.

Rallies also were held Saturday in Miami and Crawford, Texas, where 1,200 people gathered blocks from where President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a news conference insisting Israel halt its escalating offensive in the West Bank and withdraw troops.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who spoke to Bush on Saturday and Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday, has pledged to try to "expedite" the military operation, according to an Israeli statement, but did not announce a timetable for a withdrawal.

Also on Sunday, Andrew Cuomo, who is battling for the Democratic nomination to run for New York governor, asked the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in a letter to rescind Yasser Arafat's 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Arafat shared the award with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for efforts that led to the now-tattered 1993 Oslo Agreement. The prize cannot be revoked.


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