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Protests across Arab world as leaders express outrage

Around 600 protesters gathered in front of Kuwait's parliament last night to condemn Israel's attack on aid ships near Gaza which were carrying 16 Kuwaitis.

KUWAIT CITY // Around 600 protesters gathered in front of Kuwait's parliament last night to condemn Israel's attack on aid ships near Gaza which were carrying 16 Kuwaitis, before the National Assembly discusses the crisis in an emergency session today. "My friends are very strong and they have very good values, they did not believe the Israelis would start attacking or killing people on those ships," said Fatima al Mutawa, 27, an assistant at the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training. Her best friend, Haya al Shatti, 28, and cousin, Fundos Abduljader, 21, were among the Kuwaitis reportedly taken into Israeli custody.

After hearing the news of the attack, family members of the Kuwaitis, including the Islamist MP, Waleed al Tabtabae, and five women, arranged the demonstration. The government called a special cabinet session to discuss the crisis and summoned the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to pressurise Israel into releasing the Kuwaiti detainees. The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, called a meeting of the 22-country organisation about the attack. "We condemn this crime, taken against a humanitarian mission and people. They were trying to help people. They were not on a military mission. Everyone should condemn this," Mr Moussa said in Doha.

The Syrian president, Bashar Assad, and visiting Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, warned the raid could drag the region into war. Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, which is one of two Arab countries to have diplomatic relations with Israel, denounced Israel's use of "excessive and unjustified force". In Amman, more than 2,000 people took to the streets in protest and Jordan's information minister called the attack a "heinous crime".

The Iranian foreign ministry, meanwhile, called on Arab and Muslim nations to stand united in protesting against the raid. "The inhuman action of the Zionist regime against the Palestinian people and preventing the humanitarian aid from reaching Gazans does not show this regime's strength, but is a sign of its weakness," the official IRNA news agency quoted the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as saying.

@Email:jcalderwood@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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