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Prophet Mohammed Newspaper Cartoons Anger Muslims

Fury is spreading, across the Muslim world, at the decision of a number of European newspapers to reprint cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Meanwhile, the owner of the French newspaper "France-Soir" has fired one of the editors, for publishing the caricatures.

Two armed Palestinian groups threatened Thursday to target French, Norwegians and Dutch in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, because of decisions by newspapers in these countries to reprint cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

That is only one example of the angry reaction by Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere at the decision of a number of European newspapers to reprint the cartoons. The caricatures were first published by a Danish newspaper in September and the outrage has slowly grown in recent weeks.

The anger was apparently shared by the French-Egyptian owner of France-Soir, who fired one of the newspapers editors late Wednesday. He said he regretted any offense the reprinting of the caricatures caused to the Muslim community.

The issue is being perceived as one pitting supporters of free speech against those arguing that religious beliefs must be respected. Some also consider it a clash within Europe between secular Europeans and the region's growing Muslim community. But Thursday, Robert Menard, head of the free press watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, called on both sides to calm down.

Mr. Menard warned the situation was radicalizing. He says the Arab world must weigh their words and those in the West must be careful not to make more inflammatory gestures. He called for dialogue between the two sides to resolve the situation.

Only yesterday, Menard said the international community should support newspapers' right to write freely. But, Thursday, he said that given the scope of the anger, he would not reprint the cartoons if he were a newspaper editor today.

So far, Denmark - the source of the cartoons - has been the hardest hit by the Muslim outrage. Several Arab countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from Denmark to protest the caricatures and Danish goods have been boycotted in Muslim countries. The Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons has apologized for offending Muslims, but not for its decision to publish the cartoons.