NEWS

Tens of thousands protest after Muslim prayers across Mideast over Israeli airstrikes on Gaza



JERUSALEM (AP) — Tens of thousands of Muslims demonstrated Friday across the Middle East in support of the Palestinians and…

JERUSALEM (AP) — Tens of thousands of Muslims demonstrated Friday across the Middle East in support of the Palestinians and to protest against the Israeli airstrikes pounding the Gaza Strip, underscoring the risk of a wider regional conflict erupting as Israel prepares for a possible ground invasion there.

From Amman, Jordan, to Yemen’s capital, Muslims poured out onto the streets after weekly Friday prayers. At Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Israeli police had been permitting only older men, women and children to the sprawling hilltop compound for prayers, trying to prevent the potential for demonstration as tens of thousands attend on a typical Friday.

An Associated Press reporter watched police allow just a Palestinian teenage girl and her mother into the compound out of 20 worshippers who tried, some of them even over the age of 50. Young Palestinian men who were refused entry gathered at the steps near Lion’s Gate, their eyes downcast, until police shouted at them and shepherded them out of the Old City altogether.

“We can’t live, we can’t breathe, they are killing everything that good is good within us,” Ahmad Barbour, a 57-year-old cleaner in a clean white thobe, said, seething, after police blocked him from entering for prayers. “Everything that is forbidden to us is allowed to them.”

The mosque sits in a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and conflicting claims over it have spilled into violence before. Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam and stands in a spot known to Jews as the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism.

In Baghdad alone, tens of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square in the center of Baghdad for protests called by the influential Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

“May this demonstration … terrify the great evil, America, which supports Zionist terrorism against our loved ones in Palestine,” Sadr said in an online statement.

Across Iran, a supporter of Hamas and Israel’s regional archenemy, demonstrators protested. In Tehran, the capital, protesters burned Israeli and Ameircan flags, chanting: “Death to Israel,” “Death to America,” “Israel will be doomed,” and “Palestine will be the conqueror.”

In Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels still at war with a Saudi-led coalition, live television footage showed demonstrators crowding streets and waving Yemeni and Palestinian flags. The rebels’ slogan long has been: “God is the greatest; death to America; death to Israel; curse of the Jews; victory to Islam.”

After prayers in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, some worshippers stepped on American and Israeli flags, in a sign of disrespect.

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Associated Press writers Abdulrahman Zeyad in Baghdad, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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