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Celebrities stir passions with views on Gaza violence

WASHINGTON -- Professional athletes are going public with strong views about Gaza, putting their relations with fans on the line while stirring up a social media frenzy.

More often than not, celebrity sympathies have been leaning in favor of Palestinians as the Israeli assault on Hamas rolls into its fourth week and the death toll keeps rising.

Zayn Malik of the British boy band One Direction was the latest boldface name to voice his concern when he posted “#FreePalestine” on his Twitter account Sunday.

As of Tuesday, his message had been retweeted 220,000 times, and favorited just as often, among his 13 million followers worldwide.

But it also angered Israeli fans — with some going so far as to make death threats against the 21-year-old heartthrob, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani heritage.

“People who don't live in Israel don't have any right to say their opinion out loud,” tweeted one young woman, Shaked Erez, who added the hashtag #freeisrael for good measure.

“Your Tweet really broke me& I'm sure all the Israeli directioners 2. U made us very sad,” added Stav Ben Shushan, who urged Malik to delete his tweet. He did not.

The roster of celebrities — many not known for political activism — weighing in on Gaza has grown since pop diva Rihanna and basketball star Dwight Howard tweeted #FreePalestine.

Social media gives celebrities unprecedented power to engage directly with millions of fans worldwide, said George Washington University media professor William Youmans.

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