Crowds of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza City on Saturday to storm the buildings of EU diplomatic departments and burn the flags of Germany and Denmark after the publication of controversial cartoons deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
The cartoons have caused a furor across the Muslim world, in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of Islam's holiest figure. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse.
The cartoons were first published in Denmark, and then in newspapers elsewhere in Europe in a show of solidarity with press freedoms.
About two dozen protesters stormed the German cultural center Saturday morning, smashing windows, breaking doors and burning the German flag. Down the street, about 30 Palestinians threw stones at the European Commission building, and replaced the EU flag with a Palestinian flag, before police brought them under control.
About 50 schoolchildren and teenagers gathered at one corner of the street shortly after to try to resume the attacks on the two buildings, but Palestinian riot police, armed with batons, pushed them back. The youths threw stones at the police, then fled.
Later in the day, about 400 protesters marched to the European Commission building, accompanied by a loudspeaker car that blared, "Insulting the prophet means insulting every Muslim," and urged merchants to boycott Danish products: "With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet." Protesters also set fire to a Danish flag.
Police set up a cordon at the building to prevent stone-throwing, but protesters heeded organizers' appeals and didn't attack the building. Most of the demonstrators were merchants who called for a boycott of European goods, and many carried small books of the Quran, the Islamic holy book.
Elsewhere in Gaza City, armed men with links to the Fatah Party handed out red carnations to students, nuns and the priest at a Roman catholic school, to apologize for other Fatah gunmen who threatened earlier in the week to target churches as part of their protests, the AP reports.
"We came to show that we are united, Muslims and Christians, and that we oppose assaulting our Christian brothers," said one gunman, flowers in hand.
In Brussels on Saturday, the European Union called on the Palestinian Authority to protect EU buildings from attack.
"The Commission expects the Palestinian authorities to ensure that European premises are properly protected," the EU said. "The Commission deeply regrets that Europeans who are working to bring a better life to Palestinians should be the subject of such attacks."
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