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‘Do not punish all Gazan people’: Thousands attend pro-Palestinian march in London

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators have taken to the streets of central London against the backdrop of the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Seven people have been arrested on suspicion of offences including two public order offences and one criminal damage.

More than 1,000 officers have been deployed by the Metropolitan Police for the march, as the force warned anyone showing support for Hamas, which is a designated terror organisation in the UK, faced arrest.

Flares in the Palestinian colours of red, green and black were set off early on the route, while chants of “Free, free Palestine” could be heard as people carrying flags and placards made their way through the centre of the capital.


Follow Israel-Hamas war live: ‘Bodies of hostages’ found

As the demonstrators approached Downing Street, there were shouts from the crowd of “Rishi Sunak, shame on you” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

Rallies were also being held in Manchester and Edinburgh and other parts of the UK.

The Met said certain areas of London would be covered by a legal power, which would require a person to remove items such as scarves and masks that might be used to conceal their identity.

Section 12 of the Public Order Act is also in force covering the demonstration route, which finishes in Whitehall.

This allows senior officers to impose conditions on processions, which are deemed necessary to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has also ensured additional staff are available on call this weekend to provide charging advice to police if needed.

Ahead of the rally on Saturday afternoon, protesters gathered outside the BBC’s headquarters, which had earlier been vandalised with red paint thrown at the building.

The broadcaster has faced criticism from senior Conservatives in recent days for maintaining its editorial stance not to describe Hamas militants as terrorists.

The mood of the march

The mood at the march was passionate but calm, from what I could see on the ground – from the starting point on Regent Street, to around the Women of World War Two memorial on Whitehall, with lots of families throughout.

But it felt more emotional, more personal than other protests I have covered, such as those related to climate change.

You could sense it in the flares emitting hazy plumes of coloured smoke, the occasional smell and sound of fireworks, and in the angry tone of the voices of some of those chanting. And that quite a lot of people, though still the minority, wore bandanas around their faces.

As the march backed up down Whitehall and people stood still, the atmosphere felt more charged, with the crowd growing denser, the chanting and shouting louder and more unified.

Even so, there were still many children all around, their presence perhaps reassuring that things wouldn’t erupt.

At around 3.30pm or 4pm, the crowd began to disperse.

Smaller groups, and still many families, remained in between the Women of World War Two memorial and the Cenotaph, letting off small fireworks and flares and chanting.

Several groups of police officers looked on, including “level two” officers in baseball caps who are riot-trained, explained one officer from another team.

The protest comes as Palestinians continue their mass exodus from northern Gaza after Israel’s military told them to evacuate ahead of an expected ground invasion.

The enclave has been besieged and subjected to sustained airstrikes following last weekend’s deadly surprise assault on Israel by Hamas insurgents.

The conflict has so far claimed more than 3,200 lives on both sides.

Read more:
‘Women and children killed in Israeli strike’ – Hamas
UK could be complicit in Gaza war crimes, Tory MP warns

‘Nobody has anywhere to go’

While there has been strong support and sympathy for Israel over the Hamas attacks, the country’s response and its impact on civilians has also sparked anger.

Among those taking part in the London protest was Narimane Hourier, who said the actions of Hamas were “appalling”, but added: “Do not punish all the Gazan people.”

A protest was also held in Manchester
A protest was also held in Manchester

Katy Colley, who is Jewish and travelled from Hastings for the march, told Sky News: “Palestinians have been screaming for decades. No one has listened.”

Meanwhile, Saira Ahmad argued there “should be an immediate ceasefire”.

She said: “[Gazans are] already living in the worst conditions as it is, and now are being made to flee.

“The warnings don’t help. Nobody has anywhere to go.

“It’s inhumane.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd, calling on political leaders to condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza.

“As we wave the Palestinian flag, let’s hear it for the people of the West Bank, for the people of Gaza, for the people of the refugee camps, and say very bluntly to our political leaders in this country: ‘Do not condone war crimes, do not condone the starvation and the denial of medicine to desperate people in Gaza or anywhere else,'” he said.

“If you believe in international law, if you believe in human rights, then you must condemn what is happening now in Gaza by the Israeli army.”

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A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “We have been working closely with the police ahead of planned protests in relation to recent events in the Middle East.

“The CPS will have additional staff on call this weekend who will provide round-the-clock charging advice if requested by the police.

“Individuals have the right to lawful protest but if any behaviour goes beyond that into an offence which meets our legal test, we will not hesitate to authorise criminal charges.”


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