Three arrested as Gaza marchers clash with police

Fireworks, shoes and crockery thrown as thousands march in London against assault on Palestinians
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The Independent Online

The Israeli embassy in central London turned into a battleground yesterday evening as police and demonstrators clashed following a pro-Palestinian rally.

Organisers estimated that at the peak of the protest up to 100,000 people had braved snow and sub-zero temperatures to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, but police believe the figure was closer to 20,000.

They were among tens of thousands in cities across Europe who protested against Israel's actions. Some 30,000 people turned out in Paris, 10,000 in Lyon, and 8,500 marched through Berlin. A further 10,000 demonstrated in the German city of Duisberg. In Oslo, police fired tear gas into the crowd when protesters bombarded them with bottles, stones and fireworks.

In London, 13 people were taken to hospital following increasingly violent scuffles between police and protesters, and scores more were treated at the scene. The trouble began when protesters hurled shoes at the US embassy, in the spirit of Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at George Bush in protest at his "war crimes".

Protesters threw fireworks, sticks and shoes at the embassy and climbed lampposts while police struggled to hold them back. Israeli flags and placards bearing the face of President Bush were burned. At the height of the trouble protesters seized shields and barricades from riot police and used them to hit back. Police were seen using batons.

Last night the Metropolitan Police confirmed three arrests had been made for offences including aggravated trespass and assault on a police officer, but Commander Bob Broadhurst said that could rise to 40.

More than 30 organisations, including Stop the War Coalition, British Muslim Initiative and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, came together for the second largest rally since Israel's attacks began. Smaller vigils have been taking place almost daily in the UK since the Israeli military action began two weeks ago, in which more than 800 Palestinians have died.

The march began peacefully, yesterday at lunchtime, at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, London, where speeches were made by celebrities and activists, including the rock musician Annie Lennox and the actress Juliet Stevenson. But the protests turned ugly, and riot officers charged repeatedly at a group composed mainly of young men, many of them masked. Sticks and barriers were hurled at officers. Some of the youths destroyed a Starbucks coffee shop, looting hefty mugs to throw at the police. About 300 police corralled a similar-sized group of protesters and moved them away.

Protests took place across Britain. In London, Ali Mohammed, 29, from Iraq, one of many young Muslims to take part, wore a bandana with "Hamas" emblazoned on it. "What Israel is doing in Gaza disgusts me," he said.

Further clashes are expected today as the Board of Deputies of British Jews holds a rally in Trafalgar Square to call for peace. And more than 3,000 people are expected at a pro-Israel rally in Manchester tomorrow; it will demand an end to "Hamas terror, and peace for the people of Israel and Gaza".

Reaction of Britain's jewish community

The crisis in Gaza has opened a rift in the UK's Jewish community. Many prominent Jews are torn between loyalty to Israel and wanting to voice public criticism of its government.

Miriam Karlin, actress

"What Israel is doing at the moment is recruiting for Hamas in the same way the UK and the US went about recruiting for al-Qa'ida when we were bombing the hell out of Iraq."

Alexei Sayle, comedian

"The poor Palestinians are killed and starved and brutalised, and then told that they're the bad guys."

Lord Janner, Labour peer

"Israel cannot just sit there and have the rockets flown down to destroy its people. Israel had no alternative other than to fight back."

Janet Suzman, actress

"I am hardly alone in being shocked at the collateral damage caused by bombing unverified targets."

Stephen Frosh, Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck College, London

"The Palestinians in Gaza are being seen as inhuman, as if their destruction doesn't matter."

Gillian Slovo, novelist

"The Israeli military has ensured there are going to be huge casualties."

Joe Lobenstein, vice-president, Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations

"Israel has suffered from indiscriminate rocket-throwing... They cannot tolerate this and put their population in danger."

Malcolm H Levitt, Fellow of the Royal Society

"No past persecutions of the Jewish people can justify this."

Paul Sussman, author

"Israel... has become an increasingly dark, malevolent being, whose moral decline besmirches Jews everywhere."

Abe Hayeem, Iraqi Jew

"This is a one-sided war, with Israel's underlying intention of regime change to destroy Palestinian civil society by ethnic cleansing."

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