Israel-Gaza conflict: People power demands British action on Gaza conflict

Thousands march through London, as Obama and Cameron make a joint statement
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The Independent Online

A massive and peaceful demonstration against the violent and increasingly bloody Gaza conflict drew tens of thousands of protesters from all walks of life on to the streets of central London yesterday. Old and young, they marched from outside the BBC HQ in Portland Place through Oxford Circus and past the US embassy before congregating in Hyde Park.

The organisers – the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War – claimed 150,000 were in attendance to protest against the conflict, where the death toll has increased to more than 1,900 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis.

Wider movements were mobilised across the UK yesterday in cities including Manchester, Birmingham and York. Later in the day, Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama released a joint statement calling for a cessation in the hostilities in the region.

The march in London went peacefully, with shops along Oxford Street remaining open. Also present was what the Metropolitan Police described as an "appropriate and proportionate" number of police officers. Scotland Yard reported last night that no arrests were made.

A range of politicians and activists spoke to the protesters to rally support for those living in Gaza.

Addressing the crowd in Hyde Park, Rushanara Ali, Labour's shadow minister for Education, described Mr Cameron as a "disgrace to our country", saying he had failed "to show leadership".

Shabana Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, called for a boycott of Israeli settlement goods. "I think Israel's actions in Gaza have been utterly disproportionate and unjustified," she said. "Our government has failed to tell it like it is, failed to speak up for tens of thousands of people in this country. I think the boycott movement is really important."

Baroness Tonge, whose criticism of Israel led to her resignation from the Liberal Democrats two years ago, said yesterday: "Demonstrations like this have several functions: for the people of Gaza and the West Bank to know they are not alone, and hopefully to persuade our politicians that they simply have to start listening to the people."

Following a telephone conversation between Mr Cameron and Mr Obama last night, Downing Street said: "They agreed Israel has a right to defend itself but it should do so in a way that exercises restraint, and Israeli forces must take utmost care to avoid civilian casualties. Both agreed the priority must be to re-establish a ceasefire that paves the way for negotiations on a more lasting peace."