Embassies in Syria Are Burned in Furor Over Prophet CartoonFebruary 5, 2006
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 4 (AP) — Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday — the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, the police said.
Iraqis rallying by the hundreds demanded an apology from the European Union, and the leader of the Palestinian group Hamas called the cartoons "an unforgivable insult" that merited punishment by death.
Pakistan summoned the envoys of nine Western nations in protest, and Europeans took to the streets in Denmark and Britain.
At the heart of the protest: 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was practicing self-censorship when it came to Muslim issues. The drawings touched a nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid depictions of Muhammad.
In a statement Saturday, the White House condemned the attacks on the embassies, saying, "We stand in solidarity with Denmark and our European allies in opposition to the outrageous acts in Syria today." At the same time, the White House criticized the Syrian government for not protecting the embassies better.
Denmark's prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has said repeatedly that he cannot apologize for his country's free press. But other European leaders tried Saturday to calm the storm.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she understood Muslims were hurt — though that did not justify violence. "Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion," Mrs. Merkel told an international security conference in Munich.
The Vatican deplored the violence but said certain provocative forms of criticism were unacceptable. "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.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, who has criticized European media for reprinting the caricatures, said there was no justification for the violence in Damascus.