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Published: Friday, 1/9/2009

Local contingent joins Gaza protest in D.C.

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of Ohioans will be leaving for Washington by car and bus tonight to take part in a rally outside the White House tomorrow in protest of Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Two buses will be departing from Masjid Saad, the Alexis Road mosque, at 11 p.m., said Ziad Hummos who is helping organize transportation for the local contingent.

"People are coming from all over the country. We want to save the people of Palestine," Mr. Hummos said. "We've been predicting at least 100,000 people will participate."

Among the Toledoans making the trip will be Imam Ismail Azzouni, spiritual leader of Masjid Saad, Mr. Hummos said.

Most of the Ohioans heading for D.C. are Muslims but organizers emphasized that they are concerned with a humanitarian crisis, not religious or ethnic issues.

"Our community is just heartbroken at the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza," said Julia Shearson, executive director of the Cleveland chapter of CAIR - Council on American-Islamic Relations.

She said three buses will be leaving from Columbus, one from Cleveland, one from Pittsburgh, and possibly one from Akron.

Ms. Shearson predicted a much larger turnout in Washington tomorrow than the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 who rallied there in July, 2006, to protest the Israeli-Lebanese fighting.

More than 700 Palestinians have been killed and 2,000 wounded since Israel began its offensive against Gaza on Dec. 27, according to the latest news reports.

Israeli officials have said the military action is in response to rockets being fired by Hamas militants at Israeli territory.

"Israel is in a conflict not of its own making - indeed it withdrew every Israeli soldier and all 8,000 Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip as part of its 2005 disengagement initiative," the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "However, Israel has been forced to act in defense of its citizens, who have been and continue to be deliberately attacked by the Hamas terrorist organization."

Ms. Shearson said the rockets are "an act of a desperate people who have been besieged for 18 months. They are being strangled there. Even the Vatican said it is 'slowly becoming a concentration camp' in Gaza," citing a statement by Vatican official Cardinal Renato Martino.

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR's Washington office, called the situation in Gaza "absolutely unbelievable."

"Now we even see that a U.N. driver of an aid truck was killed and the U.N. has suspended relief supplies in Gaza because it can't even provide safety of its personnel," Mr. Hooper said.

He said Israel's ban on western media in Gaza has prevented balanced reporting of the fighting.

"What are they trying to keep from the public?" he asked.

In addition to the Toledoans traveling by bus, many more will be driving their cars, Mr. Hummos said.

The protest is scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow in Lafayette Park, on the north side of the White House.

Ms. Shearson said protesters are hoping President-elect Barack Obama, who is staying at the Hay Adams Hotel overlooking Lafayette Park, will take note.

"We hope he will hear our voices in reaction to what we see as his stunning silence," she said.

The "Let Gaza Live" rally is being sponsored by a number of organizations and spearheaded by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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