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Insults fly during Fort Lauderdale protests over Gaza conflict

The boiling debate over the conflict in the Gaza Strip returned to the streets of Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, but this time both sides hurled insults at each other from a safe distance.

Caught off-guard by the scope and ferocity of a rally Dec. 30 — in which pro-Palestinian protesters got into the faces of Israel supporters — Fort Lauderdale police worked Thursday to ensure the same didn't happen again.

Police locked down the 100 block of Southeast Third Avenue. Camouflaged agents kept watch from a perch above. Even Mayor Jim Naugle was on hand.

''We received information ahead of time regarding the event, and we planned accordingly,'' said Sgt. Frank Sousa, a police spokesman.

The effort paid off.

While vitriolic, Thursday's afternoon's pro-Israel demonstration and pro-Palestinian counter-rally were peaceful. There were no fights and no arrests, Sousa said.

Why? Mainly because the two sides were kept apart by metal barricades. Those voicing support of Israel were corraled behind a gate adjacent to the federal courthouse at Third Avenue and Broward Boulevard. Backers of the Palestinians were kept along the east side of Third Avenue, next to the First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale.

Police may have kept the two groups apart, but they didn't stop them from spewing insults at each other.

"Terrorists!" the Israel backers screamed. "Don't make me take off my shoe," one man added, joking about the Iraqi journalist who recently hurled two shoes at President George W. Bush.

"Baby killers!" the Palestinian supporters responded before breaking into chants of "Nazis! Nazis!"

The rally began at 5 p.m. — the height of rush hour and in time to appear on the evening news. A steady stream of cars passed, with some people honking, others waving and still others flipping the middle finger.

Still, the event paled in comparison to that of Dec. 30 and Sunday's bellicose confrontation in Miami.

In Miami, taunts, jeers, vulgar gestures and curse words filled the air outside the Israeli consulate as supporters of both sides in the Gaza conflict waged dueling protests.

For more on this story, see The Miami Herald.

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