PARIS: Parts of central London were brought to a standstill Saturday as thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched against Israel’s offensive in Gaza and in Paris a banned demonstration descended into violence. Organizers of the London rally claimed that “tens of thousands” of people joined the march from Prime Minister David Cameron’s office to the Israeli Embassy, many of them chanting “Israel is a terror state.”
Police refused to give an estimate for the number present but several roads through the city center were closed during the 4.8 kilometer march, which passed off peacefully.
In Paris, by contrast, clashes broke out after hundreds gathered in defiance of a ban on their demonstration, with crowds throwing stones and bottles at riot police, who responded with tear gas. Some 33 people had been arrested by early evening, a police source said, while three police officers were injured in the disorder near Montmartre in the north of the city.
Protests were permitted in other French cities, and thousands turned out in Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg, as well as in Brussels where thousands rallied for Palestinians.
In London, demonstrators held up placards pleading for Israel to end its attacks on Gaza that read “Stop the bombing, free Palestine” and “End Israeli apartheid.”
Opposition Labour lawmaker Diane Abbott said it was the “biggest London Palestinian rally in years.”
The left-wing Stop the War Coalition, an organizer of the march, condemned British and U.S. support for Israel as “nothing less than collusion with war crimes killing women, children and disabled people.”
Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the five-hour protest was a “chance to say enough is enough: Israel’s siege of Gaza and its occupation of Palestinian land has to end now.”
In Paris, police had banned Saturday’s demonstration following violence after similar marches – a move that was widely criticized by those taking part in London.
Hundreds of people, including many women and children, took to the streets regardless, and there were cheers as two Israeli flags were burned in front of the crowd.
“We are all Palestinians,” chanted the protesters. Some threw stones at the cordons of riot police before running off, starting a game of cat and mouse with police.
In the resulting running clashes, two small vans were set on fire, as well as numerous bins, while the streets were littered with broken glass and other debris.
Speaking Friday about the ban on this weekend’s march, President Francois Hollande said: “We cannot allow the conflict to be imported into France. We cannot have demonstrators facing each other down, with a risk to public order.”
The U.S. Embassy had issued a statement “strongly encouraging” its citizens to steer clear of the Paris protests, warning of the potential risk of clashes. Authorities said organizers who defied the ban would face a six-month jail term and 7,500 euro fine.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius responded to claims that France was biased in favor of Israel. “In no way does this mean that the French government has taken a position against the Palestinians,” he said to journalists during a visit to Jordan.
Around 3,000 people staged a peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstration in Amsterdam Sunday, calling for an end to the bloody Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, AFP said.
People of all ages – Arab and European – gathered on the Museumplein square, opposite the renowned Rijksmuseum, before marching through the city center, carrying signs including “Stop the war” and “ Israel war criminals.”
“It just has to stop. Children are being killed and they are innocent,” said Ekrem Kara, 32, wearing a Palestinian black-and-white keffiyeh. “I don’t understand why the world is silent, why no one says anything. It just has to end.”