Montrealers express concern over Mid-East conflict
Published Saturday, November 17, 2012 1:48PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 17, 2012 6:18PM EST
As tension rises in the Mid-East, so too do passions become inflamed in Montreal.
Dozens have died in a series of attacks and counter-attacks in recent days between Israelis and Palestinians.
As of Friday evening, three Israelis had died as a result of dozens of rocket attacks fired by Palestinians. Another 39 Palestinians were believed to have been killed by 200 bombing raids on Gaza, including one on Hamas headquarters, but those numbers grew Saturday.
The situation led about 150 Montrealers to protest outside the Israeli Consulate in Westmount Friday evening.
Montreal’s Jewish community leaders have expressed concerns that the passions could even lead to violence in Montreal.
As a precaution, security has been stepped up at local Jewish community buildings such as schools and synagogues.
“Whenever tensions rise in the Middle East, history has shown that acts of anti-Semitism tend to rise outside of Israel,” said B’nai Brith Canada’s Steven Slimovitch.
“People will have their eyes and ears open, the police will do more surveillance, they will do more drive-arounds, and essentially everybody is basically on a heightened state of alert,” he said.
Conflicts intensify Saturday
On Saturday Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with about 300 airstrikes and shot down a Palestinian rocket fired at Tel Aviv, the military said, widening a blistering assault to include the Hamas prime minister's headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels.
The intensified airstrikes came as Egyptian-led attempts to broker a cease-fire and end Israel's four-day-old Gaza offensive gained momentum. The leaders of Hamas and two key allies, Qatar and Turkey, were in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials, and the Arab League was holding an emergency meeting.
The White House said President Barack Obama was also in touch with the Egyptian and Turkish leaders. The U.S. has solidly backed Israel so far.
Speaking on Air Force One, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said that the White House believes Israel "has the right to defend itself" against attack and that the Israelis will make their own decisions about their "military tactics and operations."
The Israeli attacks, which Gaza officials say left 12 dead, came as Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets toward Israel, including two aimed at the commercial and cultural centre of Tel Aviv. Rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week mark the first time Gaza militants have managed to fire rockets toward the cities, raising the stakes in the confrontation.
The widened scope of targets brings the scale of fighting closer to that of the war the two groups waged four years ago. Hamas was badly bruised during that conflict, but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons, and has been under pressure from smaller, more militant groups to prove its commitment to fighting Israel.
In a psychological boost for the Israelis, a sophisticated Israeli rocket-defence system known as "Iron Dome" knocked down one of the rockets headed toward Tel Aviv, eliciting cheers from relieved residents huddled in fear after air raid sirens sounded in the city.
Associated Press video showed a plume of smoke rising from a rocket-defence battery deployed near the city, followed by a burst of light overhead. The smoke trailed the intercepting missile.
Police said a second rocket also targeted Tel Aviv. It was not clear where it landed or whether it was shot down. No injuries were reported. It was the third straight day the city was targeted.
Israel says the Iron Dome system has shot down some 250 incoming rockets, most of them in southern Israel near Gaza.
Saturday's interception was the first time Iron Dome has been deployed in Tel Aviv. The battery was a new upgraded version that was only activated on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule, officials said.
Israel opened the offensive on Wednesday with a surprising airstrike that killed Hamas' military chief, then attacked dozens of rocket launchers and storage sites. It says the offensive is meant to halt months of rocket fire on southern Israel.
While Israel claims to be inflicting heavy damage on Gaza's Hamas rulers, it has failed to slow the rocket fire. In all, 42 Palestinians, including 13 civilians, have been killed, while three Israeli civilians have died.
-With a file from The Associated Press