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Protests Against Israel's Assault on Gaza Continue in Middle East


Anti-Israel protests erupted throughout the Middle East again on Monday, as Israeli forces continued air strikes against Hamas targets on the Gaza Strip. More than 300 people, including many civilians, have been killed in the assault, which Israel launched in response to a series of rocket attacks launched from Gaza.

In Lebanon, tens-of-thousands of Hezbollah supporters gathered in the streets of Beirut carrying Palestinian and Hezbollah flags. Hezbollah leaders declared Monday a day of mourning and solidarity with Gaza, and urged crowds in the Arab world to rise up and support Gaza.

Street protests were also held in Egypt, where demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and pro-Gaza banners.

In Iran, a spokesman for the country's Foreign Ministry condemned the Israeli air raids. He called Israel's actions a "war crime" that could be considered genocide.

The United States and other Western nations have blamed Hamas for triggering the outbreak of violence. Officials at White House and the State Department say the United States seeks a sustainable cease-fire, one that would be more durable than the truce that expired earlier this month.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Thomas Steg, said the chancellor believes Hamas is exclusively and clearly responsible for the violence.

The spokesman says Hamas unilaterally broke the ceasefire agreement. There was a lasting attack on Israeli settlements and Israeli territory of Qassam rockets, he said, and that it is unquestionable that Israel has the legitimate right to protect its population and defend its territory.

Germany's Chancellor has also called for Israel to avoid civilian casualties in its attacks on Hamas targets.

U.S. President George Bush says Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel in order to end the violence in the region.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Hamas and Israel to stop the violence and do everything necessary to avoid civilian casualties.

"While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I have also condemned the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza," he said. "The suffering caused to civilian populations as a result of the large-scale violence and destruction that have taken place over the past few days has saddened me profoundly."

The secretary-general added that Israel must keep all border crossings open so humanitarian aid can reach those in need in Gaza.