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15,000 Rally Against Israeli Actions

Muslims: Mosques in the New York area close for the day to permit attendance at a noisy but peaceful rally. Smaller events are held in California.


NEW YORK — More than 15,000 people marched to the United Nations on Friday to protest Israel's crackdown on Palestinian demonstrators and to urge President Clinton and others to take a balanced approach to the Mideast dispute.

The noisy but peaceful rally, which included grocers, cab drivers, teachers, religious leaders, activists and others from the Muslim community, filled Dag Hammerskjold Plaza. Many displayed grisly photos of children killed in confrontations with Israeli soldiers; others waved Palestinian flags and chanted angry slogans.

Similar but smaller rallies were held Friday in the Southland.

The New York gathering lasted five hours and was notable for the absence of political VIPs--such as First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani--who attended a similar rally here Thursday for Israel. The irony was not lost on organizers.

"Of course we feel neglected and overlooked by American politicians," said Akhmed al Hatib, president of the National Muslim Merchants Assn. "But politicians and the media must remember--we vote and we do not forget."

Many New York-area mosques closed for the day, enabling members to attend the event. Some protesters came on buses from as far as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

Pausing twice during the rally for afternoon prayers, many participants expressed anger over news stories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reporting "is not to be believed, because we are criticized, and we are not the ones shooting children," said Nisreen el Hashemiate Mohamed, an activist.

To change U.S. foreign policy, speakers said, Palestinians and other Muslims must increase their economic and political clout. That means voting in greater numbers and making sure that their voices are heard, said Siraj Wahaj, the imam from the Al Daqwaa mosque in Brooklyn.

"This is the only way the government will ever be evenhanded in the way it treats Palestinians and Israelis," he said. "But there is another lesson we must never forget: You fight back when someone hurts you. You never give up. And sometimes, brothers and sisters, you fight to the death."

In the Southland, about 100 Arab Americans rallied in front of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in downtown Santa Ana for about three hours Friday afternoon. They chanted slogans such as "Stop the killing, stop the crime, save the children of Palestine."

About 35 Santa Ana police with helmets and gas masks at the ready had expected a crowd of as many as 1,000 protesters. They surrounded the smaller group, and no disturbances were reported.

An Arab American march that attracted 600 people in Riverside on Friday also was peaceful, police said.


Times staff writer Jennifer Mena in Santa Ana contributed to this report.

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