BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran's highest political and religious authority made a provocative religious appeal Sunday to Muslims worldwide, saying "true believers" were "duty-bound to defend" Palestinians suffering under two days of Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip.
But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's message fell short of a call to arms amid speculation about how Tehran and other allies of Hamas would respond to the ongoing attack on the militant group's facilities in the densely packed coastal enclave. It did not meet the definition of a fatwa, a religiously binding legal ruling.
"All true believers in the world of Islam and Palestinian fighters are duty-bound to defend the defenseless women and children in Gaza Strip, and those giving their lives in carrying out such a divine duty are 'martyrs,' " Khamenei said in a statement, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
The Gaza offensive continued to have consequences throughout the region, with large demonstrations staged across the Arab world. Yemen's official Saba news agency reported that nearly 1-million people turned up in the capital, Sana, for a protest. Television footage of the rally showed a huge crowd stretching deep into the horizon.
From Cairo to Istanbul, Israel's adversaries used the weekend assault to marshal crowds into the streets for demonstrations.
And among regional allies there was also discontent: The prime minister of Turkey, one of the few Muslim countries to have relations with Israel, called the air assault a "crime against humanity."
The Syrian government, meanwhile, announced the suspension of its indirect peace talks with Israel because of the attacks.
A radical Saudi cleric used the assault on Gaza to incite believers to target Israeli interests "everywhere," to avenge the attacks on the Gaza strip.
In Amman, Jordan, about 5,000 lawyers marched toward Parliament to demand the Israeli ambassador's expulsion and the closure of the embassy. "No for peace, yes to the rifle," they chanted. There also demonstrations in nearby Palestinian refugee camps.
A small group of Jordanian lawmakers— who petitioned to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman— burned the Israeli flag in Parliament and trampled on it while clapping, despite objections from Parliament's speaker and other lawmakers.
Thousands of Egyptians — many of them students — demonstrated at campuses in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere and accused President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders of not doing enough to support the Palestinians.
And in the normally politically placid streets of glitzy Dubai and Kuwait, hundreds of demonstrators — some draped in Palestinian flags — protested at the Palestinian consulate in Dubai and outside the Kuwaiti Parliament.
Protesters also turned out across Europe, while European leaders called on Israel and Hamas to end the bloodshed.