BEIRUT: Protesters have taken to the streets across the world – in silent vigils and noisy demonstrations – to demand an end to Israel’s bloody campaign in Gaza.
The gatherings over the last 72 hours, from Tokyo to San Francisco, were mostly peaceful, although France’s decision to ban protests prompted sporadic outbreaks of violence in Paris and Marseille.
Some 500 people staged a silent protest in Tokyo Monday against the bloodshed in Gaza, the biggest such gathering in the Japanese capital since the violence began early this month, organizers said.
As night fell demonstrators holding candles formed huge letters spelling “Gaza” in a city park, and offered a one-minute prayer for victims of the violence.
Some demonstrators waved Palestinian flags while others carried signs reading: “Stop the killing in Gaza. Japan cares.”
“We want people in Gaza to know that they are not isolated from the world,” said Sonoko Kawakami, one of the organizers.
“Gaza is far from Japan, but we are going to continue to do whatever we can do here.”
Leading members of the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Jewish faiths delivered brief messages calling for an end to the violence.
Across the United States, Americans also voiced their anger at Israel’s assault, with some expressing frustration at unconditional U.S. support Israel.
Hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered outside the State Department in Washington before marching to the White House.
Speaking at the event was Rabbi Dovid Feldman of Jews United Against Zionism.
“We want to urge the U.S. to please stop this bloodshed ... It’s time to realize it’s wrong for the Palestinian people and dangerous for the Jewish people,” the Washington Post reported him as saying.
Thousands rallied in President Barack Obama’s home state of Chicago. Hundreds staged a “die-in” by gathering around the scattered bodies of protesters, who lay on the ground to represent the bodies of Palestinians killed.
Events also took place in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
Protests across major cities in Canada Saturday slammed the government’s backing for Israel. In Toronto, organizer Hind Awwad described Prime Minster Stephen Harper government’s “unwavering support” of Israel amounts to complicity in “crimes in the Gaza Strip.”
Similar rallies took place in the Cypriot capital Monday, where several hundred protesters called halt to military action in Gaza during a peaceful rally near the Israeli Embassy.
The protest was organized by left-wing trade unions and peace groups and included Turkish Cypriot activists from the ethnically divided island’s breakaway north. Some protesters burned a hand-painted Israeli flag.
In the Irish capital, officials said that 3,000 and 5,000 people marched to the Israeli Embassy Sunday, almost double the number who turned out to rallies the previous week.
In Belfast, hundreds gathered outside the BBC Broadcasting House, accusing it of biased reporting.
One of the largest rallies in Europe drew 11,000 people to the streets of Vienna, who marched across the city center to the official residence of the country’s president Sunday, while demonstrators took to the streets in Madrid and Amsterdam.
Tensions soared in France after weekend protests turned violent. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls Monday slammed “intolerable” acts of anti-Semitism after a rally descended into violence pitting an angry pro-Palestinian crowd against local Jewish businesses.
Sunday’s demonstration in the north Paris suburb of Sarcelles was the third in a week to erupt in violence, as shops were looted and riot police lobbed tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd.
The rally had been banned amid concern the Jewish community would be targeted after protesters last weekend tried to storm two synagogues in Paris.
“What happened in Sarcelles is intolerable: To attack a synagogue or a kosher grocery is simply anti-Semitism and racism,” Valls said.
In the Paris suburb sometimes nicknamed “little Jerusalem” for its large community of Sephardic Jews, the rally descended into chaos when dozens of youths – some masked – set fire to trash cans and lit firecrackers and smoke bombs. Eighteen people were arrested.
In Latin American countries with sizable Palestinian immigrant population the protests were among the largest. In the Chilean capital Santiago, over 5,000 people marched to the Israeli and U.S. embassies. Thousands also took to the streets over the weekend in Argentina, Ecuador and Mexico.
In Israel itself, Palestinians clashed with police in the northern city of Nazareth Monday, police said.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said about 200 Palestinians clashed with security forces, who responded with water cannon and stun grenades, arresting 16 people after the 3,000-strong demonstration in Israel’s largest Arab city.
Demonstrators held up placards reading “Israeli army commits genocide in Gaza.”
The clashes came as Nazareth and cities in the West Bank observed a general strike to mourn the victims of the conflict.
Marches of solidarity have been staged in other parts of the Middle East, including Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.