* Egypt's Islamist leader faces dicey balancing act
* Egypt PM visits Gaza in show of solidarity
* Protesters plan to mass in Cairo's Tahrir Square
CAIRO, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Thousands of people protested in
Egyptian cities on Friday against Israeli air strikes on Gaza
and Egypt's president pledged to support the Palestinian
enclave's population in the face of "blatant aggression".
Western governments are watching Egypt's response to the
Gaza conflagration for signs of a more assertive stance towards
Israel since an Islamist came to power in the Arab world's most
President Mohamed Mursi is mindful of anti-Israeli sentiment
among Egyptians emboldened by last year's Arab Spring uprising
but needs to show Western allies his new government is no threat
to Middle East peace.
His prime minister, Hisham Kandil, visited Gaza on Friday in
a demonstration of solidarity after two days of strikes by
Israeli warplanes targeting Gaza militants, who had stepped up
rocket fire into Israel in recent weeks.
Gaza officials said 28 Palestinians, 16 of them civilians,
had been killed in the enclave since Israel began the air
offensive against the tiny, densely populated enclave ruled by
the Islamist Hamas movement.
Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
"We see what is happening in Gaza as blatant aggression
against humanity," Mursi said in comments carried by Egypt's
state news agency. "I warn and repeat my warning to the
aggressors that they will never rule over the people of Gaza.
"I tell them in the name of all the Egyptian people that
Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday, and Arabs today are
not the Arabs of yesterday."
The Egyptian foreign minister also spoke to his counterparts
in the United States, Jordan, Brazil and Italy on Friday to
discuss the situation in Gaza, a ministry statement said.
Mohamed Kamel Amr spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton about the necessity of cooperation between the United
States and Egypt to end the military confrontations. Amr
stressed the necessity of Israel ending attacks on Gaza and a
truce being rebuilt between the two sides, the statement said.
Israeli ministers were asked to endorse the call-up of up to
75,000 reservists after Gaza militants nearly hit Jerusalem with
a rocket for the first time in decades and fired at Tel Aviv for
a second day. Such a call-up could be the precursor of a ground
invasion into Gaza, or just psychological warfare.
Mursi's toppled predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, was a staunch
U.S. ally who upheld a cold but stable peace with Israel.
The new president has vowed to respect the 1979 peace treaty
with the Jewish state. But relations have been strained by
protests that forced the evacuation of Israel's ambassador to
Cairo last year and cross-border attacks by Islamist militants.
More than 1,000 people gathered near Cairo's al-Azhar mosque
after Friday prayers, many waving Egyptian and Palestinian
"Gaza Gaza, symbol of pride", they chanted, and "generation
after generation, we declare our enmity towards you, Israel".
"I cannot, as an Egyptian, an Arab and a Muslim, just sit
back and watch the massacres in Gaza," said protester Abdel Aziz
Nagy, 25, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Protesters were marching from other areas of Cairo towards
Tahrir Square, the main rallying point for last year's uprising
that toppled Mubarak.
In Alexandria, around 2,000 protesters gathered in front of
a mosque, some holding posters demanding Egypt's border crossing
to Gaza be opened to allow aid into the impoverished enclave.
Hundreds also gathered in the cities of Ismailia, Suez and
al-Arish to denounce Israel's attacks.
Al-Azhar, Egypt's influential seat of Islamic learning,
called on all Arabs and Muslims to unite in support of their
brothers in Gaza, the state news agency MENA said.
"The Zionists are seeking to eliminate all (Palestinians) in
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," Ahmed al-Tayyib, the Grand
Imam of al-Azhar, said in comments carried by MENA.
Al-Tayyib denounced the position of world powers on the
Gaza crisis, describing them as having "forgotten their
humanitarian duties ... and standing on the side of the
aggressors," according to MENA.