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Cornwall - Protesters urge prime minister to call for immediate ceasefire in Mideast

Jennifer Ditchburn, Canadian Press | Published: Saturday, August 05, 2006 |

CORNWALL, Ont. (CP) - Protesters accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of toeing the American line on the Middle East conflict, as they rallied Friday outside the site of the Conservative caucus meeting.

About 80 people, mostly from Montreal, urged Harper to call for an immediate ceasefire in the region. So far, the Conservative government has supported a ceasefire only as long as certain conditions are met, such as a halt to attacks by both Hezbollah and the Israeli army.

"I'm astounded at the injustice of Harper's position in terms of unconditionally supporting Israel when at this point in time the civilian death count is over 900," said Jordan Topp, who has taught in Lebanon and has friends there.

"People have been killed across the country in Lebanon, and it's not what he's called a 'measured' response."

Demonstrators waved Lebanese flags and placards at passing motorists outside the Nav Canada facility, which is inaccessible to everyone but guests there. They chanted slogans such as "Harper stop fighting, come out and face the justice!"

Daad Elsaadi of Finch, Ont., said she and her husband had planned to visit Lebanon where they owned property, but instead donated the money from the plane ticket to humanitarian assistance.

"My house burned, my land burned, my olive trees burned, my walnut trees burned, and I don't care," cried Elsaadi.

"I only care for the innocent people and for the children who are dying, for the women who are giving birth in the backyard and their children are dying."

Later, staff members from Harper's office invited two of the protesters inside to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and with Industry Minister Maxime Bernier.

Harper has called Israel's attacks on Lebanon to neutralize the threat of Hezbollah a "measured" response. But that assessment has apparently hurt the party in recent weeks, with a pair of polls suggesting that support for the Conservatives, and their Middle East policy, is sliding.

Jerome Charaoui of Montreal said Harper has hurt the positive image that Canada has had among Arab states.

"Traditionally, they've regarded Canada as a peaceful country, as a mediator between countries, and will now only see Canada as being aligned with George Bush's imperial policy in the Middle East," said Charaoui, whose relatives in Lebanon are in hiding.

Said Hafizi, an Afghani-Canadian, comforted his school-aged daughter who began crying on the fringes of the protest.

"I have kids, I have a family, and I know the value of that," Hafizi said. "These people are killing like butchers. They don't feel what they are doing and this is not right."

The Conservative caucus was scheduled to end a three-day summer caucus meeting later Friday. Harper was expected to announce additional financial assistance to the region.

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