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Monday, August 07, 2006

Montreal Demo Takes on Anti-Israel Tone

MONTREAL -- Thousands of Montrealers spilled into the streets Sunday to protest against the ongoing shelling of Lebanese civilians by Israel in its four-week old conflict with Hezbollah, which has killed 700 people on both sides of the border.

Members of Montreal's large Lebanese community joined a coalition of 60 groups representing labour, student, ethnic and human rights organizations and several high-profile politicians in calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to join other G-8 countries in demanding an immediate ceasefire on both sides.

The massive crowd wound its way north to Mount Royal before heading south along St. Denis street waving Lebanese flags, colourful homemade placards and shouting slogans denouncing Israel and U.S. President George W. Bush.

Many said they were disturbed over the deaths of children.

"I am suburban with a little house, a little job. I am not used to demonstrating, but it's beyond horror, beyond indignation when you see all those kids killed." one demonstrator said.

Some carried placards in support of Hezbollah and the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah, and others chanted "Vive Hezbollah."

"These paramilitary groups like Hezbollah have committed massacres in my own country," said Nema Alborz, a post-doctoral student from Iran. "It saddens me to see the flags of Hezbollah. We have to take up the flags of Lebanon."

Estimates put the crowd at between 15,000 and 25,000. Speakers included Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Andre Boisclair, head of the Parti Quebecois and Rabbi Israel David Weiss of New York, with Jews United Against Zionism. He marched alongside Sayed Nabil Abbas, of the Islamic Shiite Supreme Council in Canada.

In lead-up to the demonstration, the Quebec-Israel committee took out a full page in the Saturday editions of several newspapers calling for a just peace and showing photos of gatherings of Hezbollah militants in raised-arm gestures reminiscent of the Nazi salute.

"We thought it was important for Quebecers to have a better understanding of what's happening between Israel and Hezbolla and give some background on what Hezbollah really is," a spokesperson said.

The demonstration was one of a handful in countries around the world, including Egypt, Iraq, Belgium and England and South Africa.

The three opposition parties have made Harper's foreign policy the centre of attention, lending support to protesters who oppose the government's support of Israel.

On Parliament Hill on Saturday, Bloc Quebecois MP Richard Nadeau joined marchers and compared Israel's recent actions in the Gaza Strip to "genocide."

"As far as I know, in Gaza, there's one victim, one group of people who are victims, at present," Nadeau said. "One would only have to take a trip there, to see who the victims are and see who is perpetuating this military force that is completely disproportionate."

Harper has insisted Canada cannot be neutral towards a group such as Hezbollah, which is banned in Canada for being a terrorist organization.

"You just can't make up stuff and talk in code," Harper said. "If the opposition wants to talk in code and is neutral about Hezbollah, let them say that."

However, Harper has toned down his initial assessment of Israel's response to Hezbollah as "measured," explaining that it's difficult to define proportional responses in the context a full-blown war.

Meantime, the Canadian Red Cross is asking for cash donations to help provide humanitarian services to the thousands of people in Lebanon uprooted by the conflict.

Iain Logan, senior adviser for disaster management at the International Federation of the Red Cross spent the last three weeks helping to co-ordinate relief efforts in the Middle East.

"We have managed to get some convoys moving backwards and forwards, but it's extremely difficult and very dangerous," Logan said on the weekend from his Calgary home

"We will not be able to gear up complete humanitarian operations until there is a ceasefire."

Logan said more than a million people may be displaced by the war, both within and outside of Lebanon.

"It's a bit frustrating knowing that there are people who are cut off and really need help, and getting to them is really a challenge right now."

One of the key jobs, he said, is raising awareness of the complexity of conflict here.

"We're asking for cash right now," Logan said. "With cash we can purchase in the region. We can purchase more appropriate stuff. It's less cost for transportation."

The Canadian Red Cross is making an appeal for almost $100 million in public donations to help aid civilians, boost the emergency-response capacity of the Lebanese Red Cross Society and support Red Crescent Movements that assist people fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan, Cyprus and Egypt.

Montreal Gazette
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