150 protest Israel's attack on Gaza

01/05/09 Mitch E. Perry
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On Saturday night in downtown St. Petersburg, a crowd of approximately 150 people stood on the BayWalk complex between First and Second streets to protest the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Protests have been held across the country, and the world, for the most part condemning the Israeli government for its incursion into Gaza a week ago Saturday.

It was the second such protest in the Tampa Bay area in a week. Last Tuesday, an estimated 400 to 500 people protested off Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa in a similar demonstration.

Melissa Baird lives in Tarpon Springs. She calls the situation in Gaza "an absolute disaster."

Although the Israeli government has said the immediate goal is to conquer territory in northern Gaza, some political analysts have theorized that Israel’s ultimate military goal is to effectively eliminate Hamas.

Palm Harbor resident Victor Suweil says that strategy is doomed to fail.

Protests in the Middle East have not only focused on Israel and the United States, but also some Arab leaders perceived to not support Hamas.

In particular, leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are being criticized by many in the Arab world. Both nations were also relatively quiet during Israel’s war against Hezbollah in 2006. The Washington Post reports that both perceive Hamas as an ally of Iran, whose influence they fear in the region.

Some analysts have speculated that the reason Israel took action now is that it wanted to do so before a new administration takes over in Washington.

In statements, the Bush administration has essentially stood in lock step in support of Israel’s actions over the past 10 days. But President-elect Barack Obama has not said a word, with a spokeswoman saying the U.S. has only one president at a time.

The Rev. Bruce Wright said he’s opposed to violence of any sort, and he doesn’t excuse the rocket attacks fired into Israel.

A Port Richey man who only wanted to be identified as Ahmed held aloft a sign that read, “Gaza Walled In: No water, no electricity, no food, just bombs.” He blamed both sides, and said he believes in a one state solution in the Middle East.

The protest was not devoid of supporters of Israel. Across the street, separated by 3 members of the St. Petersburg Police were approximately a half-dozen counter demonstrators.

Clearwater resident Stuart Berger said he wanted to make it clear that he deplores violence.

Dan from Orlando also stood with the supporters of Israel, but his agenda, he said, was to eliminate radical Islam. And he blasted President Bush’s statement after 9/11 that Islam was a religion of peace.

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