U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, meeting with more than 40 critics of the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, said Tuesday that she would push for humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and favored a cease-fire, but she refused to condemn the Israeli offensive.

The meeting, which was polite but tense, culminated a day of demonstrations by protest groups that picketed the building on Washington Avenue South in Minneapolis where Klobuchar has her office. Earlier in the day, about 70 people held a rally in the building's lobby.

A small protest was held outside Sen. Norm Coleman's Twin Cities office, said Mary Beaudoin, director of Women Against Military Madness, who was there. And two or three protesters went to U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum's office and met with her district manager, McCollum spokeswoman Cleve Mesidor said.

In the meeting at Klobuchar's office, she listened intently as one activist after another implored her to oppose the Israeli bombings.

Among those at the meeting were members of a Jewish group that opposes Israel's military policies toward the Palestinians, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, and several peace groups, including Women Against Military Madness and the Anti-War Committee.

One activist placed a large color photo in front of Klobuchar of a man carrying what appeared to be a child who had been badly mutilated by the bombings.

Klobuchar admitted to being affected by the photo. She said she had sympathy for people on both sides of the conflict and, as a result of the discussion, would push for humanitarian aid.

Pressed by the protesters to denounce Israel, Klobuchar said, "I am not condemning what Israel has done as you have asked me to do." But, she added, "We need to work toward a cease-fire and I would like to see a cease-fire in place."

LeRoy Coleman, communications director for Sen. Coleman, said, "While Senator Coleman strongly believes that Israel has a right to defend itself, he calls on both sides to quickly work towards a lasting cease-fire. However, a cease-fire cannot just be a short term opportunity for Hamas to regroup."

During the afternoon rally, Humaira Afzal, communications director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, appealed to Minnesota's congressional delegation to mount pressure to end the conflict, saying the bombing of Gaza will fuel hatred of America and American interests "and will be used by extremists to recruit more individuals and justify their attacks."

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382