In Jordan, low turnout for anti-Israel march

September 15, 2011

About 200 protesters ringed by scores of police officers demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador here Thursday, but what was billed by organizers as a “million-man” march on the embassy drew a far smaller crowd, which was kept well away from the building by a tight security cordon.

Concerned about a repeat of last week’s storming by protesters of Israel’s embassy in Cairo, the Israeli government brought its ambassador and his staff members home from Amman on Wednesday night for their weekend leave, a day earlier than usual.

“No Zionist embassy on Jordanian soil!” the demonstrators roared, waving Jordanian flags and marching across a dirt lot near the Kalouti mosque, about a mile from the embassy, in the upscale Rabia neighborhood. “Get out, pig!” they chanted.

Cheers erupted as a makeshift Israeli flag went up in flames, and the crowd called for the abrogation of Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel, a long-standing demand of Jordanian opposition groups. Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab countries that have peace treaties with Israel.

But unlike the scenes in Cairo last Friday, in which Egyptian protesters broke into the Israeli Embassy and ransacked some of its offices, a line of police officers kept the Jordanian demonstrators penned in behind barricades, blocking a lone attempt to break out.

Layers of uniformed and plainclothes officers filled the streets around the Israeli mission, closing off the area of the compound, which was blocked by a barrier. “It’s impossible to get there,” a riot police officer told reporters who tried to reach the building, which had been cleared of most of its occupants.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the ambassador, Daniel Nevo, and other diplomats normally return to Israel on Thursdays, a day ahead of the Muslim Sabbath, to spend the weekend with their families but that they left in a convoy a day earlier this time because of the planned protest.

The ambassador and his staff members plan to return Sunday, the spokesman said, adding that one diplomat and some security personnel stayed behind, following routine procedure.

The protest in Amman followed a series of anti-Israel demonstrations outside the country’s embassy in Cairo, which climaxed with last Friday’s attack, leading to the hurried airlift home of the ambassador and nearly all of his staff members.

The protests were triggered by the deaths of five Egyptian border guards who were killed as Israeli troops pursued gunmen who had carried out a deadly attack in southern Israel.

Israel is also facing a diplomatic crisis with Turkey over a deadly raid on a Turkish-flagged ship leading an aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip last year. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and downgraded relations this month after Israel refused to apologize for the killings.

Those tensions, and a looming confrontation in the United Nations next week over a Palestinian bid for recognition of statehood, have contributed to a growing sense of siege in Israel.

On Wednesday, a small group of demonstrators held a rare protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman. They demanded its closing over diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group, that they said suggested a covert U.S. plan to promote the status of Palestinians in Jordan and turn the country into a home for Palestinians.

The concept, which is advocated by a small minority within Israel, has not been embraced by the U.S. government, which has called for a two-state solution negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II this week ruled out any suggestion that his country might serve as an alternative to a Palestinian state.

“Jordan will never be a substitute land for anyone,” he said. “Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine.”

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