Thousands march in Damascus in solidarity with Palestinians

DAMASCUS (AP) — Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in the Syrian capital Monday in a government-sanctioned protest to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip under attack following last month’s capture of an Israeli soldier.

The crowds jammed Yousef Al Azma Square in central Damascus and several streets leading into it, waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of weeping Palestinian children.

The protest came a few hours before top Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal, whom Israel and the US have accused of masterminding the soldier’s June 25 capture, was expected to speak about the latest developments in his first news conference since the incident.

Protester Azzam Suleiman, a 20-year-old Syrian student, said the Palestinians should step up action against Israel.

“I urge Hamas and the Palestinian factions to capture more soldiers and not to release the captive until our prisoners are out,” he said.

Some protesters pledged their lives for the Palestinian cause. “The students of Syria are ready to sacrifice themselves for you Palestine”, read one banner.

Others lashed out at the Jewish state. “Israel is guilty of killing more than a thousand Palestinian children”, and “Israel is the mother of terrorism in the world”. Meanwhile, some Syrians used the occasion to express loyalty to their president. “With our blood and souls we redeem you, Bashar,” protesters shouted.

“We pledge to continue to provide all manner of support for your resistance and steadfastness in the face of the killing and destruction,” a speaker told the throngs, referring to the Palestinians.

“We also call on our brothers in Arab countries to come to the aid of the Palestinian people and not to be content with expressions of concern and condemnation,” the speaker added.

Syria is a staunch supporter of the Palestinians and is home to the political leadership of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group that leads the Palestinian government and which has links to fighters who seized Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25.

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