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Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have gained brownie points from some for picking up Canadian evacuees from Lebanon in his personal jet, but a protest Saturday showed he hasn't impressed everyone.

Harper was roundly criticized for the government's position on the growing crisis in Lebanon as about 2,000 people took to the streets to call for an end to the violence.

Similar peace rallies were planned in up to 20 other Canadian cities as scores of rockets fired by Hezbollah rained down on Israel, which continued its air, naval and ground assault on the extremists' bases.

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In Montreal, hundreds of people, mostly of Lebanese origin, gathered downtown to protest the Israeli airstrikes.

"I am not Lebanese myself by origin, I am not Palestinian myself by origin but today all of us are Lebanese and Palestinian," said Mohamed Kamel of the Canadian Muslim Forum.

"Everyone here today is carrying Lebanese flags and Palestinian flags against this aggression."

Daniel Saykaly, a spokesman for Palestinian and Jewish Unity, wondered out loud whether Harper is really Canada's prime minister and not Israel's because of his failure to call for a ceasefire.

In Toronto, some posters bore slogans that denounced Israel's actions in Gaza, Palestine and Lebanon, while others carried an image of the prime minister with the words War Mongerer underneath.

Ausma Malik, a University of Toronto student, called Israel's actions "state-sanctioned murder."

"Today we unite as people of conscience . . . as people who will not be silent while a nation is torn to shreds, while innocent civilians are killed in the clear light of day," she told a crowd assembled outside the U.S. Consulate.

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She called on Harper to get a "backbone" amid chants of "shame" from those assembled.

"We Canadians who believe in our ethical and humanitarian role in the world will not forget his pathetic and inadequate response," she said.

Protesters demanded that Harper call for a ceasefire and speak out against Israel. Some speakers mocked his statement that Israel's attacks on Lebanon were a "measured response" to the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.

Earlier this week, Harper diverted his jet to Cyprus after a state visit to France instead of returning directly home to pick up several dozen evacuees from Lebanon.

In Winnipeg, a group of about 100 protesters were greeted by more than two dozen people who said they were there to support Israel.

Both sides accused each other of racism and ignorance and debated over the meaning of terrorism.

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"When the bottom-line ideology of these people is to destroy Israel, then, you know what, enough is enough," said Ken McGhie, an Israel supporter who waved a large flag. "The enemies of Israel are the enemies of Canada."

Another group raised a large sign stating Canadian First Nations Stand With Israel.

"Israel has a right to defend itself," said Raymond McLean, a pastor at First Nations Family Worship Centre.

Hussein Hammoud, his wife Maryan and their four children watched from the back of the crowd at the Toronto protest, peeking over hundreds of placards and Lebanese flags to see the speakers.

The Lebanese-Canadian couple have scores of family members in southern Lebanon, some of whom have had houses destroyed since the bombings started.

"We are all with the leader of Hezbollah," said Hammoud. "God bless him and we are praying for him to defend us, and defend our children."

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This is not the first time Israel has attacked Lebanon, he said, referring to its occupation of southern Lebanon in the later years of that country's 15-year civil war.

"We get used to the attacks, and we survive," Hammoud said. "We've lost brothers and mothers, but still, we want to live."

Pleas for peace at the rally were offset by cheers and jubilation at word of a Hezbollah claim that 22 Israeli soldiers had have been killed during a limited drive into southern Lebanon.

A protest organizer said the response was because the deaths would have been a victory for the Lebanese resistance, and the cheers were not an indication that protesters think some lives are worth less than others.

"It speaks to the question posed by the response of the Canadian government to this," said James Clark. "Are Arab, Palestinian and Lebanese lives worth less than those of Canadians?

"Is it acceptable, when Canadians are evacuated, for Israel to start bombing (Lebanon) back 20 years?"

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