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Palestinians Mourned in O.C.

About 300 hear O.C. Muslim leader decry violence and urge an end to U.S. support of Israel.


Foreshadowing a weekend of impassioned local responses to events in the Middle East, about 300 Muslims prayed at a Costa Mesa mosque Thursday for the souls of dead Palestinians and heard their spiritual leader call for the end of U.S. aid to Israel.

"I wish the Israeli tanks could face an army," Imam Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini told his followers at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. "They do not face an army. Instead, they go after women and children. Jerusalem is part of us, part of the blood that runs in our veins, and for 52 years this land has been unjustly occupied."

The service came at the end of a day that saw yet another escalation of violence that has claimed at least 95 lives, most of them Palestinian, during 15 days of clashes in Israel. The tension had waned Wednesday but erupted anew when at least two Isaeli soldiers were killed by a mob in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

In retaliation on Thursday, Israeli helicopter gunships fired rockets at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Gaza City and other key Palestinian facilities in the West Bank. In fact, Al-Qazwini said, it was TV images of that attack that had spurred him to action.

"What is really offending us," he said, "is that these weapons--these helicopters--were made right here in America."

Other local Arab and Muslim groups called for pro-Palestinian rallies and demonstrations through the weekend. "We are all Arabs," said Haitham Bundakji, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Orange County, "and we are very, very disappointed at the moves of the Israeli government."

To show their disapproval, he said, the Islamic Society and other groups plan a massive rally today at the federal building in Santa Ana and another on Sunday near Brookhurst Street and Ball Road in Anaheim.

Members of Orange County's Jewish community, meanwhile, said they are reviewing the situation before calling for any action. "We deplore the bloodshed under any circumstances," said Alison Mayersohn, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Orange County. "It's been difficult the last couple of days because it's been like a seesaw--first we heard things are calming down, then we hear of terrible tragedies. We can only hope that there will be continued efforts toward peace."

Rabbi Marc Rubenstein, spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, said he is trying to organize an interfaith service to pray for an end to the violence. "I think that the Israelis are simply trying to defend their land," he said, "but people are throwing rocks at them and their kids. We just want this thing to end. All we can do is show our concern."

In a show of solidarity, Bundakji and Rabbi Bernard King of Congregation Shir Ha Ma'alot in Irvine issued a joint statement asking for peace. "We were talking on the phone," King said of the Muslim leader who he considers a close friend, "and both of us were crying. This has been an incredibly emotional time."

Their statement reads: "As brothers, our hearts are breaking over the ongoing violence in the Middle East. . . . We pray to God . . . for the love and wisdom to have our broken hearts break open to healing and not break closed to each other."

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