Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Downing Street to call on the British government to take action against the potential forced eviction of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem, as violence between Hamas and Israel escalates.
Demonstrators marched from Westminster to the Israeli embassy in Kensington, west London, on Tuesday evening, with many wearing face coverings, waving Palestinian flags and holding placards reading “free Palestine” and “stop the massacre”.
A smaller group of counter-protesters also gathered in London to demonstrate their support for Israel. Although the protests remained largely peaceful, Metropolitan Police say that five arrests were made.
Three were arrested for assault on police, one for attempted grievous bodily harm and violent disorder and one for obstructing a highway and obstructing a police constable, the Met says. All have been taken into custody.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Asqa mosque compound on Monday, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at worshippers. Palestinians have held numerous demonstrations in the area in recent days to protest plans to evict them from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
Tensions have since escalated further, with dozens of people killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, according to its health ministry, and six people reported dead in Israeli areas after Hamas fired rockets from the Strip. UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland has warned that that the region is escalating towards “full-scale war”.
The pro-Palestinian protest was organised by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), Friends of Al-Asqa, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other campaign groups who said they wanted to show “they have not been abandoned by the rest of the world”.
It was unclear how many people protested, but a spokesperson for the MAB told The Independent that they estimate at least 8,000 demonstrators attended the march.
“Our government is making a historic mistake by calling an apartheid state a friend, so we called on them to break this relationship, impose an arms embargo and choose justice,” a spokesperson for MAB nonprofit said.
Apartheid, the institutionalised racial segregation of South Africa between the 1940s and 1990s, is widely used as an analogy to describe the Israel-Palestine conflict by pro-Palestine campaign groups, but it has been criticised by others as inaccurate and an attempt to delegitimise Israel.
Ismail Patel, chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa, estimated that 5,000 demonstrators attended the march.
“We arranged the demo where over 5,000 people attended in London and hundreds in Blackburn Bradford, Sheffield, Birmingham and Leicester,” he told The Independent.
“These protests show the nationwide horror at Israeli aggression and demand for our government to stop selling military arms to Israel, demand for ending the occupation and sanctions to be imposed on Israel for breaking international law.”
The United Nations has declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as violating the Geneva Convention numerous times, most recently in 2016.
Among the speakers at the event was former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who described the “scenes on our televisions of [Israel Defence Forces] attacking worshippers outside Al Asqa mosque” as “truly shocking”.
“Innocent lives are being lost, all because of the occupation of Palestine,” Mr Corbyn said. “Surely, the way forward is quite simply this: the occupation of Palestine must end.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson has, meanwhile, urged both Israel and Palestinians to “show restraint”.
“I am urging Israel and the Palestinians to step back from the brink and for both sides to show restraint,” he wrote on Twitter. “The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions.”
On Sunday, Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a hearing on the possible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Groups of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at protests in the following days, including outside the Al-Asqa mosque.
In Gaza, rockets fired towards Israeli areas have reportedly killed five people. Deaths have been reported in Lod, Ashkelon and Rishon LeZion. Israeli airstrikes have killed 43, including 13 children.
Demonstrations opposing the violence have also been held in New York, Washing DC and Los Angeles, as well as in other cities around the world.
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