- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 5, 2006

DAMASCUS, Syria — Rage against caricatures of Islam’s revered prophet poured out across the Muslim world yesterday, with Muslims calling for executions, storming European buildings and setting European flags afire.

Thousands of outraged Syrian demonstrators stormed the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, setting fire to both buildings. As thick black smoke rose into the air, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, who shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” which is Arabic for “God is great!”

Protesters first gathered peacefully outside the building housing the Danish Embassy. Demonstrators then started throwing stones and broke through police barricades.

Some scrambled up the concrete barriers protecting the embassy, climbed into the building and set a fire. The building is thought to have been empty. The structure was badly damaged and blackened but remained standing.

In response, the Danish Foreign Ministry issued a statement advising Danish citizens to leave Syria without delay.

The White House said yesterday it will hold Syria responsible for the burning of Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus.

“We will hold Syria responsible for such violent demonstrations, since they do not take place in that country without government knowledge and support,” said presidential press secretary Scott McClellan.

The demonstrators were protesting 12 cartoons of Islam’s prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper in September and reprinted in European publications this week.

The cartoons have touched a nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of Muhammad. One cartoon featured Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, among other provocative images.

The Vatican deplored the violence, but said certain forms of criticism represented an “unacceptable provocation.”

“The right to freedom of thought and expression … cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers,” the Vatican said in its first statement on the controversy.

Iran yesterday announced it has formed a committee to review trade ties with countries that have published cartoons.

Two Jordanian editors whose newspapers published the cartoons were arrested yesterday.

Hundreds of Palestinians protested in the occupied territories, and the leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which recently swept parliamentary elections there, told the Italian daily Il Giornale yesterday that publishing the cartoons should be punished by death.

“We should have killed all those who offend the prophet and instead here we are, protesting peacefully,” said a top group leader, Mahmoud Zahar.

Masked gunmen affiliated with the Fatah party called on the Palestinian Authority and Muslim nations to recall their diplomatic missions from Denmark until that nation’s government apologizes.

At least 500 Israeli Arabs gathered peacefully in Nazareth for the first protest against the caricatures on Israeli soil.

About 500 people rallied yesterday south of Baghdad, some carrying banners urging “honest people all over the world to condemn this act” and demanding a European Union apology.

Muslims in Europe have reacted less passionately, but anger swelled there, too, as demonstrators clashed briefly with police in Copenhagen and gathered outside the Danish Embassy in London.

There were scattered counterdemonstrations, like one outside Copenhagen, where about 50 protesters held Danish flags and shouted, “Denmark for Danes.” In Milan, Italy, about 50 supporters of the anti-immigrant Northern League party offered Danish beer and cookies to passers-by, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

A South African court banned the country’s Sunday newspapers from reprinting the cartoons.

The Danish government has tried to contain the damage.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said his government could not apologize on behalf of a newspaper, but he personally would never depict religious figures “in a way that could offend other people.”

Many Muslims consider that inadequate.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the publication of the cartoons showed a “blatant disregard for Islamic sensitivities,” but urged citizens to stay calm.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono denounced the cartoons as insensitive.

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