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Mohammed Cartoon Conflict Gets Even Hotter

The controversy over Danish editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed has widened, escalating into an armed standoff in the Gaza Strip. Now, Jordan has stepped into the fray -- in favor of the editorials.

Demonstrations across the Middle East have become more intense

Some twenty armed Palestinian scaled the walls of the EU offices in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, amid growing unrest after cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed were published in several European countries.

Among the 12 caricatures, one shows Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban; another depicts him as a wild-eyed, knife-wielding Bedouin flanked by two women shrouded in black. In Islam, depicting the Prophet Mohammed is tantamount to blasphemy.

Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen hasn't apologized; the newspaper did

Earlier in the day, two armed groups, the Popular Resistance Committee and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, had threatened to harm Danes, French and Norwegians in the Palestinian territories after newspapers in France and Norway opted to reprint the Danish cartoons.

"Every Norwegian, Dane and Frenchman in our country is a target," said the Popular Resistance Committee and the radical Al-Aqsa brigades. If the three countries in question don't shut down their offices and consulates in the Palestinian territories, "we won't hesitate to destroy them."

Call for apology

The militants at the EU offices scrawled the words "Closed Until Further Notice" on the front door of building in Gaza City, which had not even opened for business on Thursday for fear of violence.

The gunmen, from the militant group Islamic Jihad and an armed faction of Fatah known as the Yasser Arafat brigade, fired into the air as they climbed the surrounding walls of the EU compound.

They called for an apology within 48 hours for the cartoons, which were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in late September, unleashing a controversy that has grown steadily in recent days.

Jordan makes the leap

Meanwhile, a Jordanian gossip tabloid on defiantly published three of the cartoons that have triggered outrage in the Arab and Muslim world.

"Muslims of the world, be reasonable," said the editor-in-chief of the weekly independent newspaper Al-Shihan in an editorial alongside the cartoons, including the one showing the Muslim religion's founder wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

This Saudi store has stopped selling Danish products

"What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?" wrote Jihad Momani.

He told the AFP news service he decided to publish the offending cartoons "so people know what they are protesting about... People are attacking drawings that they have not even seen."

France, Germany, Spain also publish

To date, the Danish government has refused to apologize. While it says the views expressed by the newspaper did not reflect its own, it has consistently insisted on defending the right to freedom of expression.

So far, newspapers in France, Germany and Spain as well as Norway have reprinted the caricatures -- some in solidarity with the Danish publication on the issue of press freedom, and some as an "illustration" of articles about the issue.

Boycott concerns

In addition to heating up the ongoing diplomatic crisis, with ambassadors being recalled and threats issued, Denmark's foreign minister has said the European newspapers' actions threaten to worsen the Muslim world's ongoing boycott against Denmark, which that the images unleashed.

"One can expect that the boycott will spread further. There are still countries that have not held their Friday prayer sessions about this question, and now countries like France, Germany and Austria have published the drawings," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told the Boersen financial daily.

"This could heat things up further," he added.

According to Boersen, Moeller is especially worried that Algeria, which along with Morocco annually buys about one billion $162 million (134 million euros) in Danish exports, will join the boycott.

Blasphemy against blasphemy? A Palestinian child treads on the Danish flag

"Since France-Soir has also published the 12 drawings there is now suddenly an audience on the other side of the Mediterranean, which so far has remained calm, that could suddenly react," Moeller told the paper.

Jyllands-Posten editor-in-chief Carsten Juste meanwhile said that he was thrilled at the "solidarity" shown by the European newspapers that published the drawings.

The editor-in-chief of Paris newspaper France-Soir, Jacques Lefranc, was fired by the newspaper's Egyptian owner, Raymond Lakah, after he published the Mohammed cartoons. No reason was given for the decision to fire him, according to members of the staff.

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