Lebanese students stage rare university protest against Israel

Demonstrators hold Lebanese and Palestinian flags during a protest in solidarity with Gaza at the Lebanese American University (LAU), in Beirut

By Emilie Madi and Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hundreds of students gathered at university campuses in Lebanon on Tuesday to protest against Israel, the country's first coordinated university protests over Gaza, which participants said were inspired by sit-ins in the United States.

Students, alumni and other Lebanese gathered at campuses in the capital Beirut and elsewhere on Tuesday, waving Palestinian flags and posters demanding their universities boycott companies that do business in Israel.

Rayyan Kilani, 21, who is graduating this semester from the 150-year-old American University of Beirut (AUB), said students had decided it was worth risking their degrees to show support for the Palestinian cause.

"Looking at the Palestinians in Gaza and students in Gaza that lost their universities, their lives and their families, a degree would not matter to us as much as a liberated Palestine from the river to the sea," she said.

"Of course we were inspired by the protests in the U.S. and Columbia University in specific."

Pro-Gaza demonstrations in much of the Arab world have been muted, though Lebanon has seen some demonstrations organised by Palestinian factions and the allied Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.

At the AUB, around 200 people gathered in a campus square where they had been given approval by the administration to protest for two hours. Campus security barred protesters or journalists from venturing further into the university grounds and shepherded reporters off campus as the allotted window to demonstrate came to a close.

At the Lebanese American University, some students briefly chanted "Death to America."

"We want to show to show the whole world that we have not forgotten the Palestinian cause and that the young generation – which is aware and cultured – is still with the Palestinian cause," said 19-year-old Ali al-Muslem.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, activists called off a planned sit-in on Tuesday at Jordan University in Amman, the country's main campus, although a rally was planned later on Tuesday near the Israeli embassy.

On Monday, hundreds of students demonstrated in Tunisian universities and streets of the capital in support of the Palestinian people, while dozens rallied outside the French Embassy and near the municipal theatre.

(Reporting by Emilie Madi and Mohamad Azakir in Beirut; Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Jehad Shelbak in Amman and Angus McDowall; Writing by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Peter Graff)