CAIRO — Thousands of Egyptians gathered outside mosques and in squares across the country on Friday to call on Egypt and the Arab world to back the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.
Protesters hoisted the Palestinian flag and called for the liberation of Palestine and the destruction of Tel Aviv, as an Israeli military offensive continued for its third day in the neighboring Gaza Strip.
“To Gaza, we’re going! Millions of martyrs,” the crowd chanted in front of Cairo’s ancient al-Azhar mosque. One man held American and Israeli flags with the words “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” scrawled on them.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a new warning to Israel on Friday, after leading the noon prayer at a mosque on Cairo’s outskirts. He said Israel faces a “high price” for what he described as continued aggression in Gaza. Its ongoing offensive, he said, amounts to an “assault on humanity.”
“I repeat my warning to the [Israeli] attackers that they will never have power over the people of Gaza,” Morsi said. “Egypt will not leave Gaza alone. I speak on behalf of all of the Egyptian people that Egypt today is different from Egypt yesterday, and the Arabs today are different from the Arabs of yesterday.”
Prominent Islamists, imams and officials from the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, turned out to lead some of the chants in front of the al-Azhar mosque, urging Morsi to stand by the militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza.
But protesters also said they felt emboldened by the democratic change brought by the Arab Spring. And many said that after decades of authoritarian rule under Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted from power in February 2011, they felt confident that Morsi’s newly elected government would serve the country’s Arab nationalist and Islamist interests.
“Egypt has changed. The era of Morsi is not going to be like the era of Mubarak,” said Mohamed Bayoumi, a protester outside the al-Azhar mosque. He said he wanted to see a radical break from Mubarak’s cooperative peace with the Jewish state. “Morsi will fight the Zionists with all his force,” Bayoumi said.
Morsi has taken the lead among Arab nations in confronting Israel over the Gaza crisis. The Islamist president sent his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, into the Strip on Friday morning to hold a news conference alongside Hamas leaders.
“This tragedy cannot be ignored, and the whole world has to shoulder the responsibility to stop its aggression,” Kandil said at the press conference.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a prominent Egyptian Islamist and former presidential candidate, also visited Gaza on Friday, heading a medical aid convoy. Tunisia’s foreign minister is slated to visit the embattled enclave on Saturday, wire services reported.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Morsi in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis.
Amer Shakhatreh in Cairo and Karin Brulliard in Jerusalem contributed to this report.