WASHINGTON -- Thousands of people circled the White House yesterday in a passionate demonstration supporting Lebanon, the country at the center of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
Hundreds of red, white, and green Lebanese flags bearing the country's emblematic cedar tree waved beneath Lafayette Square's canopy of elms as demonstrators demanded a cease-fire, many of them mourning their war-ravaged homeland.
``There are a lot of kids, a lot of women dying, and the amazing thing is no one is doing anything about it," said Hassan Alaouie, 42, who traveled with his wife and two children from Dearborn, Mich., to attend the rally. ``This is the least we can do."
Alaouie, who works for a medical billing company, came to the United States from a border village in Lebanon 20 years ago, but much of his family is still there. His brother lost his home in Beirut to an Israeli missile, and his parents had to flee to a safe house in the north.
Organizers estimated there were ``tens of thousands" of participants, but law enforcement officials, who no longer make official crowd counts, estimated the crowd at less than 10,000.
In San Francisco, about 2,000 people marched at a rally in support of Lebanese and Palestinians and against the Israel military action.
``The occupiers are being seen as the victims, and I'm really ashamed of what is going on in the Middle East," said Alicia Jrapko, a member of the ANSWER coalition, the primary organizer of the Washington rally.
The ANSWER coalition is a left-wing group that has sponsored numerous antiwar rallies that often attract socialists and anarchists.
The National Council of Arab Americans and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation also were sponsors.
Several hundred counterdemonstrators gathered in Washington to show their support of Israel, waving American and Israeli flags.
Former attorney general Ramsey Clark drew cheers from the Washington crowd when he called for President Bush's impeachment.
``We've made more enemies during the presidency of George Bush than in the rest of our history combined," Clark said.
Most of the people at the White House yesterday were Muslim families and students, who took breaks in the shade to feed children or bow toward Mecca for noon prayers.
``We came with seven buses from Ohio. We drove all night," said Julia Shearson, director of the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in Cleveland.
Shearson, a convert to Islam, said she brought her 5-year-old daughter, Dalal Alaai, because she fears for her future. ``We're very frightened of the escalation in this conflict."
For about two hours before the march, thousands of protesters gathered near the stage in Lafayette Square.
Cedars were painted on faces and T-shirts; hair was dyed in the colors of the Lebanese flag and hundreds of Palestinian flags and banners were waved.
Speakers decried the actions of Israel and the United States, which they described as an occupation, and proclaimed solidarity with the civilians caught in the various conflicts in the Middle East.
The crowd grew most agitated when speakers denounced President Bush's references to Islam.
``Mr. Bush: Stop calling Islam `Islamic fascism,' " said Esam Omesh, president of the Muslim American Society, prompting a massive roar from the crowd. He said there is no such thing, ``just as there is no such thing as Christian fascism."
By early afternoon, the march had wended its way around the White House.
``There is no other God but Jesus!" shouted one of the counterprotesters, Kristinn Taylor, a coleader of the local chapter of the conservative group FreeRepublic.com. He held a megaphone in one hand, a Bible in the other.
The crowd shouted back: ``Rah, rah, Hezbollah!"
Syed Hussain, 19, of Columbia, Md., carried a neon green sign that read: ``Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization."
``They're just defending themselves," Hussain said. ``I hope this rally helps to show people that, so when they see us shouting `Hezbollah,' they know what it means."
Jerry Scheer, 46, watched with his hands on his hips.
``I've never seen anything like this. I'm from Kansas," said Scheer, of Wichita, who expressed his displeasure with the rally. ``But this is the only country in the world that would allow them to do this."
Some protesters said they did not have much hope that the Bush administration would change its policies because of the demonstration, but said it could raise Americans' awareness and create compassion for Lebanese citizens.
Hassan Rida, 26, traveled from Farmington Hills, Mich., with his 15-year-old cousin, Hassan Mokbel, who was vacationing in southern Lebanon when the current crisis started and had to escape through Syria. He and friends Nehme Mhanna, 24, and Mona Alaouie, 24, of Dearborn, Mich., said they wanted to show support for the Lebanese and educate Americans about the situation.
``There's always two sides of the story," Rida said.