April 15, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) - A top administration official was interrupted and booed Monday when he told thousands of people gathered at the Capitol for a pro-Israel rally that Palestinians as well as Israelis have been victims of Mideast violence.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was drowned out by chants of ``no more Arafat'' and booed as he told a packed crowd of thousands that ``innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact.''

Wolfowitz, the second-ranked official at the Pentagon, was one of dozens of speakers at what sponsors said was the largest pro-Israel rally ever staged in this country.

Hours after the rally began people were still streaming in, with the crowds extending down Capitol Hill to the Reflecting Pool. People came in on charter planes from New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston, and by overnight bus from as far away as Wisconsin.

Most of the speakers conveyed similar messages: ``We will stand with Israel, we will stand for freedom,'' said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri.

``We can't expect Israel to stand idle while its citizens are being slaughtered,'' said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

Wolfowitz too voiced strong support for Israel's fight against terrorism. He said President Bush was horrified by the carnage in Israel and had asked Wolfowitz to represent him and stress that ``terrorism must end. Hatred of Israel must end.''

But many at the rally showed little sympathy with Wolfowitz's further message that the majority of Palestinians too want an end to violence and that ``hard decisions must be made by both sides to achieve a lasting peace.'' He was forced to stop speaking several times to wait for the crowd to quiet down.

Among the other speakers were Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Housing Minister Natan Sharansky, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and New York Gov. George Pataki.

The rally was sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the United Jewish Communities.

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