LOS ANGELES -- Islamic leaders in Los Angeles lashed out at Israel on Tuesday for what they called a "barbaric attack" on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and announced a $3 million fundraising effort to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinian victims.
About 100 people gathered outside the Federal Building in Westwood late in the day as persons opposed to the military action made their voices heard in afternoon traffic. Another protest was underway outside the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard east of Beverly Hills, where Los Angeles police kept two groups of chanting protestors and supporters separate.
"The amount of suffering is totally unacceptable under any pretext," said Maher Hathout, senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, at a morning news conference.
But a spokesman for the Israeli government in Los Angeles said the nation is only defending itself after Hamas unilaterally ended the cease fire, a shaky agreement that Palestinians said was supposed to end a crippling blockade.
"Israel's disproportionate response is cruel and unacceptable to any human being by any standards," Hathout said. "This is not the way to change government."
Muslim-American community leaders announced their support for a multimillion-dollar national fundraising campaign by Islamic Relief USA to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinian victims.
As part of the effort, Friday prayer meetings at more than 70 mosques throughout Southern California will be dedicated to victims of the attacks. There are an estimated 650,000 Muslims living in Southern California.
"This is an illegal bombardment by Israel. It is barbaric and it's even more barbaric that it's being done by the Bush Administration," said Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"There's no doubt that Israel's propaganda machine is working by blaming the victims," he said. "Gaza's people are prisoners in their own land. We depend on the help of the American people."
Protests were also scheduled for later in the day at the Westwood Federal Building and the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard just east of Beverly Hills.
Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council warned that the attacks will only breed extremism in the region.
"Instead of curbing extremism, this is going to breed more militancy on the ground. The actions today only guarantee further bloodshed," she said.
Israel's efforts to end Hamas rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip drew praise from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Bush administration.
"Israel has no choice but to defend its citizens after years of relentless attacks from Gaza," federation President John Fishel said. "Israel cannot continue to tolerate the danger to hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens living in cities and towns in Gaza rocket range. We pray that these hostilities will come to an end quickly."
At the Westwood protest, actor Mike Farrell said he is "one of those people horrified by Israel's over-reponse
"Not that I'm in favor of Hamas by any means, because firing rockets into Israel is not the way these things get resolved in a productive way," the longtime activist said.
Since September 2005 when Israel voluntarily withdrew from Gaza, Gaza-based terrorists have launched more than 6,000 rockets and mortars into Israel, many supplied by Iran and Syria, Fishel said.
White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe said Monday in Crawford, Texas "for six months, a cease-fire, a state of calm, was in place between Hamas and Israel. Recently, Hamas refused to renew it. During that cease-fire, Hamas continued to fire rockets. Last week, Hamas substantially increased its rocket and mortar attacks on the people of Israel.
"Hamas has once again showed its true colors as a terrorist organization that refuses to even recognize Israel's right to exist. In order to for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire."
Los Angeles Rabbi Steve Jacobs, a community liaison who works with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, said the pain suffered this week has affected both Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip.
"We need to share that pain," Jacobs said Tuesday. "While we may differ politically, the rockets must stop, Israel must stop and we must be able to support each other."