ABU DHABI/DUBAI // Grief mingled with rage last night as more than 100 people demonstrated in Abu Dhabi in solidarity with the people of Gaza and against Israel's continuing attack. Fayza al Masri, from the Gazan town of Beit Lahia, was among those who turned up at the Palestinian Embassy to express her sadness, only a day after six members of her family were killed in Saturday's airstrikes.
However, what started as a peaceful demonstration inside the embassy grounds turned tense when riot police prevented the crowds from taking their protest against the Israeli attacks to the streets. "They wouldn't let us go onto the street and forced us to leave and to stop," Mrs al Masri said, wearing a niqab with a kaffiyeh draped around her shoulders, shortly after confronting the police. "They said it's not allowed and I asked them why. They said they would arrest us."
Another member of the crowd, who identified himself only as Mohammed, 40, said he was told that no permission had been granted for a protest outside the embassy. "I had to come here because our people are being killed and we have no access to help them so we have to stand and show solidarity," he said. "I'm not disappointed with what happened, they didn't understand that we just wanted to demonstrate peacefully."
A representative from the Palestinian Embassy who asked not to be named said it was only natural for tensions to be heightened under the circumstances. However, the organisers had only planned for the demonstration to be held inside the grounds. The Palestinian flag was flying at half mast yesterday outside the embassy compound, as crowds of people, many dressed in black, gathered after 4.30pm. Outside, rows of riot police stood at a distance, alongside a canine unit, while police managed the flow of traffic.
Inside the main courtyard, people crammed together clapping and chanting slogans pledging to "stand next to our heroes in Gaza", and not to say "Fatah or Hamas, we are all Palestinians". "Allah-uh-akbar" the crowd shouted, as a young girl with a kaffiyeh around her shoulders held up a sign pleading for an end to Israel's "war crimes". Other placards held by the crowd read "Stop the Massacre" and "We are all Gaza".
Later, the mood became more tense when some in the crowd started shouting "to the street", urging organisers from the Palestinian Social Committee to take the protest outside, onto the main road, Hazza bin Zayed Street in al Karama. Mohammed Aklouk, the first secretary at the Palestinian Embassy, spoke of his anger at what he described as the "terrorist attacks". Like so many other Palestinians, since Saturday he has spent hours watching the attacks unfold on television and talking on the telephone to his family in Gaza.
"When I ask them how they are they just keep saying 'we are OK so far'," he said. "No one knows where they are going to strike next. I am very worried about them. Is our blood really so cheap?" For Emad al Sahhar, the pain of the last few days is more acute. His cousin, a policeman, was killed in one of the Israeli airstrikes. Because of the almost permanent closure on Gaza, Mr al Sahhar has not been able to return home for the last two years, but over the last two days he has remained in close contact with his family in the northern Gaza neighbourhood of Sheikh Radwan.
"Israel made this situation, not us," he said. "There are some possible targets near my house, so my family are very scared." Dressed in a dishdash, with a kaffiyeh around his shoulders, Hani al Saadi, from Yemen, came to express solidarity with his "brothers". "All Palestinians are our people, we are all the same, we are all Arabs, so I came to be with my brothers because of their pain," he said. Earlier in the day, an estimated 400 people turned up at the Palestinian consulate in Dubai, including Samer Dajani, a 35-year-old banker from Jerusalem, who said he attended the protest to express his disgust at the attacks and called on the international community to break the cycle of violence.
"An eye for an eye approach is not the solution," said Mr Dajani adding that Israel is not giving any chance for peace between the two sides. "Gaza is a big prison. People there are deprived of necessities needed for a basic standard of living It's a time bomb that will explode sooner or later." email@example.com * With additional reporting by Rasha Abu Baker