Arab protesters bring Sydney to standstill

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Angry Arabs brought downtown Sydney to a standstill as they protested Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip.

More than 1,000 Arab Australians marched on the U.S. Consulate Tuesday in an anti- Israel, anti-U.S. rally, according to the Australian Associated Press.

The demonstration came after Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard backed Israel’s operation in Gaza, stating that Hamas had initiated the conflict with Israel.

“Clearly the act of aggression was engaged in by Hamas which commenced shelling with rockets and mortars into Israel,” she said.

Israel’s air attacks on Gaza have claimed more than 350 lives since Saturday.

Leading the protesters in Sydney was former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib, who has family in Gaza. Among the speakers was the controversial Sheikh Tajeddin Al-Hilali, who has previously lauded suicide bombers.

Smaller protests were held in other capital cities in Australia, according to AAP.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, the umbrella body of Australia’s 300,000-plus Muslim community, condemned the bombings while Jewish community officials issued statements backing Israel’s right to self-defense.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand about 300 protesters marched on the U.S. Consulate in Auckland on Tuesday. An American flag was set on fire during the protest, according to the New Zealand Press Association.

In a related development, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand condemned Israel’s “belligerent and flagrant” military campaign.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee, has not yet commented publicly on the crisis.

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