PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – There was a lot of emotion in the heart of Squirrel Hill Sunday afternoon as supporters of both Israel and Gaza squared off outside the Jewish Community Center.
A rally was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, along with more than 80 local organizations, to show solidarity with the war-torn region.
Te gathering sparked high emotions.
The 20-day war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel has lost more than 40 soldiers, while two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel were killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.
“I proudly and unconditionally support Israel and I’m proud of US aid to Israel and I’m very proud of Israel for being a noble country and defending their own people,” said protester Jeremy Chester.
Several demonstrators at Sunday’s event held signs reading “Free Gaza,” “Free Gaza From Hamas” and “I stand with Israel.”
“We’re here supporting the masses,” said protester Nina Visgarda. “We are here to say we are no long afraid to speak out and we deserve to be listened to as much as the other side does.”
Israel acknowledged Sunday that troops fired a mortar shell that hit the courtyard of a U.N. school in Gaza last week, but said aerial footage shows the yard was empty at the time and that the shell could not have killed anyone.
The shell was not fired at the school intentionally, an army spokesman said.
Palestinian officials have said three Israeli tank shells hit the school in the town of Beit Hanoun last Thursday, killing 16 people and wounding dozens. It was one of the single deadliest incidents during three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting.
The school was one of dozens used to house tens of thousands of Palestinians displaced by heavy fighting, especially in areas of Gaza bordering Israel.
In a phone call later Sunday, President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the United States is growing more concerned about the rising Palestinian death toll and the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza. The White House said Obama reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas rocket attacks that have killed Israelis, but pushed for an immediate cease-fire.
The White House said Obama told Netanyahu that the United States is committed to Israel’s security, but civilians must be protected and Gaza’s humanitarian crisis must be addressed. Obama said a sustainable cease-fire must be negotiated to allow Palestinian civilians in Gaza to return to normal lives.
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