Washington - Thousands of people demanded an end to Israeli raids in the Gaza Strip in a protest on Tuesday outside the US State Department in Washington.

Protesters carrying red-white-green-and-black Palestinian flags and wearing black-and-white checkered head scarves chanted slogans like "Stop the Killing, Stop the War, Stop the Genocide of Palestinians."

Some of them also held aloft banners that read "Stop US Aid to Israel" and "Free, Free Palestine."

An AFP reporter said there initially appeared to be around 200 protesters, but a larger crowd returned to the State Department later in the evening following a march to the White House.

A police officer said he estimated the later crowd at around 2 500 protesters, while organisers said the number was closer to 5 000 people. Police said the demonstration passed off peacefully.

Mahdi Bray, executive director for the Muslim American Society (MAS) Freedom group, said seven bus-loads of people came in from Raleigh, North Carolina in addition to crowds from the Washington area.

Bray said he wanted Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace but criticised US foreign policy.

"The United States has not been an honest broker" in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Bray said.

"The Bush administration has been the worst," he said.

Activists said the protest was organised by a number of Palestinian support groups.

Among other groups organising the protest was the National Council of Arab Americans, Bray said.

In Los Angeles, around 500 protesters and pro-Israel activists faced off peacefully near the Israeli Consulate.

At a separate demonstration attended by around 100 protesters in Westwood, actor Mike Farrell, a star of the hit 1970s television series "MASH", said he was "one of those people horrified by Israel's over-response."

"Not that I'm in favour of Hamas by any means, because firing rockets into Israel is not the way these things get resolved in a productive way," he said. - Sapa-AFP