Protesters rally in Beirut in solidarity with Gaza Palestinians

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Several thousand people took part in a rally in central Beirut on Sunday in support of Palestinians in Gaza, with organisers urging Arab countries to end efforts to normalise ties with Israel and calling on Syria to join the war.

The rally was jointly organised by the Palestinian group Hamas which controls Gaza and by the Lebanese Sunni Islamist Jama'a Islamiya, a group inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, took place near Martyrs Square.

Protesters waved Palestinian flags and the flags of the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, at the rally, which came as Israeli forces expanded their ground operations in Gaza, part of what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the second phase of a three-week old war.

"Stop the Gaza Genocide," read one banner.

Protesters also chanted: "God is our aim jihad is our way."

"We tell Egypt, you have the best opportunity today to reclaim the leadership of the Arab, Islamic world in taking a clear and bold stance," Omar Haymour, vice secretary general of the Jamaa Islamiya, told the crowd, urging Cairo to open the Rafah border crossing for humanitarian aid to Gaza.

The group said its armed wing carried out a rocket attack targeting Israel during the latest clashes on the Lebanese border, where Iranian-backed Hezbollah has also been exchanging fire with Israeli forces in recent weeks.

Haymour called on Arab countries that have signed peace deals with Israel to expel Israel's ambassadors and urged Syria, which does not have a peace agreement with Israel, to join the war alongside Hamas.

Syrian state TV said Israeli air attacks targeted Aleppo and Damascus international airports earlier this month. President Bashar al-Assad has not commented on the attacks.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Amr Alfiky; Editing by Gareth Jones)