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Demonstrators Rally At U.N. As Mideast Firestorm Rages

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As Israel traded missile and rocket attacks with Hezbollah and Hamas groups for a sixth day Monday, more than a thousand people took to the streets of New York City in support of Israel.

A rally was held across from the United Nations headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side. Supporters held signs calling for the release of two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping by Hezbollah forces last week sparked the latest flare up in the Middle East.

"It's gratifying to see that the people of New York as well as the leadership support Israel and are behind us 100 percent," said Consul General of Israel Arye Mekel.

Several local politicians, including Senator Hillary Clinton and Congressman Anthony Weiner, were also on hand to show their support. Clinton defended the way Israel has handled the conflict.

“I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremists and terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?" said the senator. “Israel must know that Americans and people who value freedom and the rights and dignity of human beings around the world stand with Israel as she defends herself against these unwarranted, unprovoked attacks of Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsors."

"When Haifa gets attacked, we feel it in Brooklyn, we feel it in Manhattan, we feel it in New York City,” said Weiner. “We're so interrelated. So many of us have family there."

Also in attendance at the rally was novelist, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. He said that Israel will stand united against the totalitarian regimes that are trying to destroy it.

For many at the rally, the issue wasn't just political, but personal. With family in Israel living in shelters, they defended Israel's bombing of Lebanon as a blow to terror.

"I have plenty of relatives in Israel, in Haifa in particular, and I called them yesterday and all of them are for the Israeli government and I stand completely with Israel," said one man.

While New Yorkers who attended Monday’s rally focused on Israel, some Middle East experts say when the dust settles, it will be the Lebanese who bear the hardest brunt of the destruction.

"The estimates are in the hundreds of millions - the cost to the Lebanese infrastructure as result of Israel’s bombing," said Dov Waxman of Baruch College.

Monday marked the sixth day of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and as the violence continues to escalate, the U.S. is taking steps to get Americans out of Lebanon.

A commercial ship, escorted by a naval destroyer, is on its way to the region. It's expected to begin taking on passengers Tuesday.

Israel has decided to allow evacuation ships through its blockade.

Military helicopters are also being used to fly others to Cyprus. About 25,000 Americans currently live in Lebanon; all are being advised to leave.

Hezbollah fired more rockets into and beyond the northern city of Haifa this morning, the furthest they've ever fired rockets into Israel. A three-story building was destroyed, and Israeli medics say at least two people were wounded, but more could be buried under the rubble.

Earlier, Israeli warplanes pummeled Lebanese infrastructure targets, setting Beirut's port on fire and hitting a Hezbollah stronghold, leaving at least 17 people dead. Israel says a fuel storage tank at the Beirut Airport and the highway to Damascus were among 60 targets hit overnight.

For the first time since the fighting escalated, Israel sent ground forces into southern Lebanon, but they soon made a quick return to Israeli soil.

More than 200 people from both sides have died since Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Syria and Iran are both suggesting a cease-fire and prisoner swap to end the battles. Those countries are blamed for supporting Hezbollah militants.

Elsewhere, Israel bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building in Gaza City for the second time in less than a week, saying it was meant as a warning to the ruling Hamas party.

The G-8 summit has been overshadowed by the ongoing violence in the Middle East. Leaders of the world's major industrialized countries came together on a framework Monday to deal with the crisis.

In it, they call for the safe return of abducted Israeli soldiers, an end to Hezbollah firing rockets into Israel, an end to Israel's military strikes in Lebanon, early withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and the release of arrested Palestinian ministers and members of parliament.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are also pushing for the deployment of international forces to the region.
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