WASHINGTON, June 6 - A group of US Muslim leaders staged a press conference and sit-in outside the State Department headquarters here Tuesday, protesting US support for Israel's "apartheid-like" policies toward Palestinians.
"We are drawing a moral line in the sand," Mahdi Bray of the Muslim Public Affairs Council told the crowd of some 53 onlookers, mostly from the media.
Leaders of various Muslim American organizations staged a sit-in outside the State Department headquarters June 5, 2001
The consortium of six US Muslim groups said in a statement that it opposes "our country's continuing and uncritical support for Israel's immoral, illegal and unjust policies toward Palestinian Muslims and Christians."
Shaker el-Sayed of the Muslim-American Society told AFP that he made the decision to join the sit-in after some troubling telephone calls to people who had returned to the Middle East after visiting the United States.
"Sometimes I heard the bombs falling ... as I was talking. This is not something you can overlook," he said, his eyes welling with tears.
Then Sayed and five other organizers strode into the street, arms interlocked, and sat down in the middle of the intersection, repeating their message and trying to get arrested.
Police cars lined the street, but the organizers were not taken into custody.
"Right now, they're not a significant threat to safety, so we're allowing them to protest," Police Sergeant JM Herndon said before the group eventually dispersed.
At a State Department Press briefing later in the day, reporters asked whether Secretary of State Colin Powell would be meeting with American Muslim leaders over their concerns, but a spokesperson did not give a definitive answer.
"I'm not aware of anything involving this particular group. I don't know -- personally, I don't know much about this group. I'll have to check and see if we have communicated with them. As you know, there are a wide variety of people interested in our policy, and the secretary meets with some and not all of them. He's just not able to meet with everybody who might request it," said Boucher.
"We do try to keep in touch with Arab American and American Muslim groups in a variety of ways. The secretary has had discussions and meetings with leaders of the Muslim community in the past, and I'm sure he will again," he said.
But Muslim leaders said they are not giving up.
"This is just the beginning of a movement," Bray said, adding that the consortium plans further protests, including a prayer meeting and sit-in outside the White House on Friday.
"We will keep reminding our government officials that their uncritical support for Israel has compromised America's interests and
damaged its reputation worldwide," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad, who took part in the sit-in.
AFP contributed to this report.