Monday, July 24, 2006

Protesters condemn attacks on Lebanon

150 demonstrators at city hall call for ceasefire
By David Kuxhaus

About 150 people gathered in the main courtyard at city hall yesterday to condemn Israel's attack on southern Lebanon, which has left more than 300 dead and thousands injured. They called for an immediate ceasefire to the hostilities and vented their anger at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earlier described Israel's response to the capture of two of its soldiers as "measured." Israel began the offensive after Hezbollah crossed into Israel and captured the two soldiers on July 12. Many demonstrators carried placards, some of which read, "End Israeli Terror." "We hope to bring to light and into the public profile the insidious and violent action of Israel against the innocent people of Lebanon and Palestine," said Krishna Lalbiharie of the Canada Palestine Support Network. The group, along with the Canadian Peace Alliance, organized similar rallies across Canada yesterday. About 30 pro-Israel demonstrators turned up at the Winnipeg rally. Some argued that agreeing to a ceasefire would be supporting terrorism. Others, like Ken McGhie, waved Israeli flags. "We need to stand with Israel," said McGhie. "Israel has a right to defend itself." There were a couple of heated conversations between [me and Michael Welch versus] the opposing groups, but for the most part it was a peaceful rally. "I'm here as a crusader for social rights and justice," said Michael Welch. "Lebanon did not attack Israel. You cannot punish Lebanese children." Canadians have been among the casualties, including four children from Montreal who were visiting the country with their family. Their names were read aloud at the rally. There were several speakers at yesterday's event, including Dr. Ghassan Joundi, a Winnipeg dermatologist who was born in Lebanon and came to Canada 25 years ago. Three weeks ago, his wife and 15-year-old daughter left for a vacation with family in Beirut. Like so many others, they have been trying desperately to leave the country. Yesterday morning, Joundi finally got a phone call from his wife telling him that the two had arrived safely in Turkey after a rocky 15-hour boat trip. "I am very happy," Joundi said in an interview. He said his wife and daughter are expected to fly to Montreal as early as today and the head home to Winnipeg. Joundi said it's difficult to watch his homeland reduced to rubble. "It is very painful and disturbing... (to see) our beloved country attacked and destroyed in this barbaric way," Joundi told the demonstration, adding that he prays for peace. Thousands of Canadians took to the streets yesterday in cities across the country. Harper was the major target of criticism in Ottawa and elsewhere. Thousands of protesters gathered on Parliament Hill to denounce the government's response to the burgeoning violence in Lebanon. The Ottawa demonstration, organized by the Coalition of Arab Canadian Professionals and Community Associations, attracted about 2,500 members of the Lebanese community, labour unions and other supporters. Many waved Canadian, Lebanese or Palestinian flags, while others carried placards reading "We need a Prime Minister, not a puppet" and "Mr. Harper... we hold you responsible for Israeli murder of Canadians." In Montreal, home to Canada's largest community of Lebanese descent, roughly 1,000 protesters made their way through downtown streets as part of the International Day of Action against Israeli Aggression. They, too, expressed anger at Canada's prime minister, calling out "Harper, you are an accomplice."

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