its just a stinking cartoon!!!!

Posted 2/2/2006 9:50 AM Updated 2/2/2006 2:16 PM

Gunmen surround EU office to protest cartoon

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) Armed militants angered by a cartoon drawing of the Prophet Mohammed published in European newspapers surrounded EU offices in Gaza on Thursday and threatened to kidnap foreigners as outrage over the caricatures spread across the Islamic world.

More than 300 students demonstrated in Pakistan, chanting "Death to France!" and "Death to Denmark!" two of the countries where newspapers published the drawings. Other protests were held in Syria and Lebanon, while officials in Afghanistan, Iran and Indonesia condemned the publication. In Paris, the daily France Soir fired its managing editor after it ran the caricatures Wednesday.

A Jordanian newspaper took the bold step of running some of the drawings, saying it wanted to show its readers how offensive the cartoons were, although its editor also said he did not want "to promote such blasphemy." In an editorial, it also urged the world's Muslims to "be reasonable."

Foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers began leaving Gaza as gunmen there threatened to kidnap citizens of France, Norway, Denmark and Germany unless those governments apologize for the cartoon.

Gunmen in the West Bank city of Nablus entered four hotels to search for foreigners to abduct and warned their owners not to host guests from several European countries. Gunmen said they were also searching apartments in Nablus for Europeans.

Militants in Gaza said they would shut down media offices from France, Norway, Denmark and Germany, singling out the French news agency Agence France Presse.

"Any citizens of these countries, who are present in Gaza, will put themselves in danger," a Fatah-affiliated gunman said outside the EU Commission's office in Gaza, flanked by two masked men holding rifles.

If the European governments don't apologize by Thursday evening, "any visitor of these countries will be targeted," he said.

The furor over the drawings, which first ran in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in September, cuts to the question of which is more sacred in the Western world freedom of expression or respect for religious beliefs. The cartoons include an image of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse.

Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet, absolutely forbids depictions, even positive ones, of the Prophet Mohammed in order to prevent idolatry.

The drawings have prompted boycotts of Danish goods, bomb threats and demonstrations against Danish facilities.

The Danish newspaper defended its decision to publish the caricatures, citing freedom of expression, but apologized to Muslims for causing offense.

France Soir and several other European papers reprinted the drawings in solidarity with the Danish daily. Jyllands-Posten also had put some of the drawings briefly on its website, and the images still can be found elsewhere on the Internet.

By Kurt Westergaard for Jyllands-Posten Outraged Islamic groups have pointed to this cartoon, one of several Mohammed caricatures published in a Danish publication last year and reprinted recently in other European newspapers.

The Israeli newspaper Maariv published a tiny version of the Mohammed-bomb caricature Thursday, on page 16.

Foreign journalists were pulling out of Gaza on Thursday, and foreign media organizations were canceling plans to send more people in.

Norway suspended operations at its office in the West Bank town of Ram after receiving threats connected to publication of the cartoons by the Norwegian Christian newspaper Magazinet.

"There were threats from two Palestinian groups, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, against Danish, French and Norwegian diplomats," Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rune Bjaastad said.

Jan Pirouz Poulsen, the Danish representative office's deputy head, said there were six Danes in Gaza and about 20 in the West Bank, and that all had been urged to leave.

Raif Holmboe, the head of Denmark's representative office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, said the office would be closed Friday and no decision has been made whether to reopen Monday. Holmboe said shots were fired at the Ramallah office earlier this week while the building was empty. No one was hurt.

Palestinian security officials said they would try to protect foreigners in Gaza, but police have largely been unable to do so in the past, with 19 foreigners kidnapped and released unharmed in recent months, mostly by Fatah gunmen.

Emma Udwin, a European Union spokeswoman in Brussels, said security measures have been taken in light of the threats.

Outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia condemned the caricatures, saying they "provoke all Muslims everywhere in the world." He asked gunmen not to attack foreigners, "but we warn that emotions may flare in this very sensitive issues."

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamic militant Hamas also demanded an apology from European countries. However, he said foreigners in Gaza must not be harmed.

Thursday's events began when a dozen gunmen with ties to Fatah approached the office of the EU Commission in Gaza. Three jumped on the outer wall and the rest took up positions at the entrance. The group demanded the apologies and urged Palestinians to boycott the products of Norway, Denmark, France and Germany.

A leaflet signed by a Fatah militia and the militant Islamic Jihad group said the EU office and churches in Gaza could come under attack and urged French citizens to leave Gaza. The gunmen left after about 45 minutes. Palestinian employees of the EU Commission had not come to work Thursday, and foreigners working at the office are based outside Gaza, and only visit from time to time.

In Multan, Pakistan, more than 300 Islamic students chanted "Death to Denmark!" and "Death to France!" and burned flags of both countries near an Islamic school.

Iraqi Islamic leaders called for demonstrations from Baghdad to the southern city of Basra following prayer services Friday.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai condemned the images, calling the publication an "insult ... to more than 1 billion Muslims."

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin said that while his country upholds free expression, "such freedom cannot be used as a pretext to insult a religion." The Indonesian newspaper Rakyat Merdeka put the Mohammed-bomb caricature on its website to illustrate its story about the uproar but covered his eyes with a red banner to avoid making the image "vulgar," a caption said.

Iran summoned Austrian Ambassador Stigel Bauer, representing the European Union, to protest the publication, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Bauer expressed "sorrow" and promised to convey Iran's protest to his government and other EU countries, IRNA said.

The Jordanian newspaper Shihan ran three of the caricatures, saying it was reprinting them to show readers "the extent of the Danish offense." Next to the drawings, the weekly said: "This is how the Danish newspaper portrayed Prophet Mohammed, may God's blessing and peace be upon him."

Later, its owner, the Arab Publishers Co., fired editor Jihad al-Momani, saying he had caused a "shock to the firm and those responsible for it," the official Petra news agency reported. It said the issue was withdrawn from the market and opened an investigation to determine if other staff were involved. A spokesman for the publisher confirmed the report.

Government spokesman Nasser Judeh said Shihan committed a "big mistake" by reprinting the drawings.

"The government strongly denounces this issues, which it considers extremely harmful, and demands an immediate apology from the newspaper," Judeh said. He said the state is reviewing "all options, especially legal action" against Shihan.

Al-Momani declined comment. Earlier, he had told The Associated Press he decided to run the cartoons to "display to the public the extent of the Danish offense and condemn it in the strongest terms."

"But their publication is not meant in any way to promote such blasphemy," al-Momani added.

An editorial signed by al-Momani and titled "Muslims of the world, be reasonable," questioned what sparked the outrage now, since the cartoons were first published in September. It said the Danish paper had apologized, "but for some reason, nobody in the Muslim world wants to hear the apology."

Morocco and Tunisia barred sales of France Soir's Wednesday issue.

The director of media rights group Reporters Without Borders, Robert Menard, called for calm. "We need to figure out how to reconcile freedom of expression and respect of faith," he said.

Vebjoern Selbekk, editor of Norway's Magazinet newspaper, said he had received thousands of hate e-mails, including 20 death threats, since printing the drawings and was under police protection.

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