Ten arrests as opposing Israel-Palestine protests held in central London

Multiple arrests made among both groups of demonstrators amid ‘very tense’ meeting in central London

Andy Gregory
Friday 05 April 2024 21:15 BST
A man waving Palestinian flags walks past pro-Israel supporters during a march to mark Al Quds Day
A man waving Palestinian flags walks past pro-Israel supporters during a march to mark Al Quds Day (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Ten arrests have been made amid allegations of threats to kill and the burning of an Israeli flag in central London as opposing groups staged demonstrations over Israel and Palestine, after new powers to prevent “disruptive” protests came into force.

Around 1,000 people assembled outside the Home Office on Marsham Street on Friday afternoon for the annual pro-Palestine Al Quds Day march – which went to Downing Street while passing a significant counter-protest on Parliament Square.

It comes amid a rise in tensions after Israel attacked a convoy of humanitarian workers, killing seven people including three Britons working with the World Central Kitchen charity to deliver food packages to people starving in war-torn Gaza, where authorities say more than 33,000 people have been killed since October.

Pro-Isreal protesters shout at Pro-Palestinian supporters during a demonstration on Al Quds Day (AP)

Two counter-protesters were arrested on suspicion of making threats to kill as the two demonstrations met, and a third for allegedly failing to remain within the designated protest area, the Metropolitan Police said.

Two men were also arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred, after an Israeli flag was allegedly burned near the stage in Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street.

Another man was arrested for a public order offence after he was allegedly heard to make a homophobic remark, with three people who allegedly tried to prevent the man’s arrest detained for obstruction, Scotland Yard said.

At 7pm, the march’s designated end time, the force said Richmond Terrace was “now mostly clear” of demonstrators, adding: “There has been a further arrest for an assault on an emergency worker. The officer who was assaulted is fortunately not seriously injured. “

A further two people were arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred, a Met spokesperson told The Independent, bringing the total number of arrests to 10.

Earlier describing the situation as “very tense” with both groups “calling each other terrorists” as the march passed through parliament square, LBC reporter Fraser Knight suggested the police rope was “doing some heavy lifting to keep the two demonstrations apart”.

“This feels very much like two opposing football teams shouting a lot of abuse at each other, but so far no obvious trouble. Just strong words,” he said.

The Met said photos of placards carrying the words “resistance by any means necessary” were being shared online, but said the force believed they were taken during a proactive vehicle stop by officers near the march start point.

“As a result, we don’t believe they have been distributed. Should they be displayed in the crowd, action will be taken,” the force said. But images were shared on social media purporting to show several the placards in the crowd.

More than 500 officers were being deployed to police the march, which is organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission and takes place on the final Friday of Ramadan. It has been criticised in the past after participants flew flags of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group and brandished signs with allegedly antisemitic messages.

The force said it held discussions with the organisers of both demonstrations, and both were subject to conditions under the Public Order Act.

Commander Colin Wingrove, who led the policing operation, said: “The conflict between Israel and Hamas continues to have a far reaching impact across communities including here in London. We recognise that there will be some who feel this march should not be allowed to take place at all.

“We work to the law. Parliament has determined that there are only very rare and specific circumstances when an application can be made to the home secretary for a protest to be banned. It requires a real risk of serious disorder and neither the intelligence picture nor the conversations we have had with organisers give us reason to believe that threshold will be met today.”

He added: “Our role is to police without fear or favour right up to the line of the law, but our powers do not extend to policing taste and decency, no matter our view of what is being said. Where that line into criminality is crossed, we will step in.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters take part at a demonstration on Al Quds Day (AP)

One pro-Israel counter protester claimed those participating in the Al Quds Day march were “naive” or “brainwashed”. Efim, aged 73, said Hamas should release its hostages before a ceasefire is put in place.

Speaking of those who thought a ceasefire agreement should be reached first, he said: “I think they are naive. If it was their family members, I think they would join our side.”

Asked about allegations of antisemitism made against the march, Abid, a 45-year-old pro-Palestinian protester, said: “We have Jews actually participating in the protest. You can ask any person from any background, any religion – this isn’t a religious issue, it’s a human issue.”

He added: “Our message to the government in the UK is to stop cooperating with a regime who’s involved in a genocide. The whole world is talking about it. Countries in Europe have already started to cut the supplies, all supplies, to Israel, so why can’t our government stop supplying them arms?

“They are using the arms and they’re killing their own people, they are killing our own people, they’ve killed aid workers, three of them were from UK.”

In a joint letter to Met Commissioner Mark Rowley on Wednesday, the IHRC and other pro-Palestinian groups accused the Met of “politically-driven policing”, saying the force had “regularly abused its legal powers to harass pro-Palestine protestors”.

On Saturday, the Met made four arrests, including one on suspicion of a terrorism-related offence, at a pro-Palestinian protest in central London, which saw more than 200,000 people take part.

Additional reporting by PA

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