Tens of thousands in Europe protest Israeli offensive

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through European cities to denounce the Israeli offensive in Gaza Demonstrations were held in London, Paris, Athens, Berlin, Budapest and Sarajevo, among other cities:


AFP - Demonstrators rallied across Europe on Saturday in protest against Israel's deadly assault in the Gaza Strip, calling for an end to the attacks on the Palestinian territory.

In London, celebrities and left-wing politicians addressed crowds in central Hyde Park before marching to the Israeli embassy, which has been the scene of rowdy protests since the Jewish state's offensive against the Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza began on December 27.

Organisers hoped that 100,000 people would turn out, though an early police estimate said 12,000 attended.

Some carried banners reading "Stop the holocaust in Gaza", "Freedom for Palestine", while others waved Palestinian flags.

Similar demonstrations took place on the streets of other European cities including Athens, Berlin, Budapest, Paris and Sarajevo, capital of part Muslim Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Israeli troops battled Hamas fighters in Gaza into a third week on Saturday, as a new round of diplomacy got under way to end a war that has killed more than 800 people in Gaza despite a United Nations truce call.

"This gathering proves that Sarajevo has learned its lesson on what happens when the world remains silent at the time when innocent civilians suffer," peace activist Svetlana Broz told the crowd in the Bosnian capital, referring to the 1992-95 war in the former Yugoslavia that claimed at least 100,000 lives.

Tens of thousands chanting "We are all Palestinians" joined the mass protest in Paris, including people of Arab origin and left-wing politicians, watched over by some 3,800 police and gendarmes.

"We want to point to the hypocrisy of an international community which votes for tons of resolutions that it never enforces," declared Olivier Besancenot, leader of France's Revolutionary Communist League.

Elsewhere in France, pro-Palestinian rallies were held in Lille, Grenoble, Nice and Toulouse.

In London's Hyde Park, British actress Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of Tony Blair, the Middle East Quartet's envoy, told the crowd that his suggestions for a ceasefire would condemn Palestinians to a "slow, agonising death".

"Tony Blair's only comment regarding the ceasefire has been to say that it can only take place after the tunnels in Gaza are destroyed," she said.

"What he is suggesting means that after the massacre people will have no access to food, kerosene and medicines that came through those tunnels. That is not a ceasefire -- that is a slow, agonising death."

Others on the Hyde Park speakers' list included musician Brian Eno and campaigner Bianca Jagger.

Lindsey German, convenor of rally organisers Stop the War Coalition, said he wanted the British government to do more to stop the "massacre" in Gaza.

"There would have been outrage from governments around the world if this had happened anywhere else -- the condemnation has been at best half-hearted."

Campaigners also gathered in Edinburgh, and Newcastle in northeast England.

Meanwhile, a peace rally organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews is scheduled to take place in London on Sunday.

In western Germany, some 10,000 people according to police, largely from the ethnic Turkish community, protested in Duisburg. Police briefly intervened when some demonstrators threw snowballs at a window bearing two Israeli flags.

Police in Berlin said some 6,600 protesters gathered for a peaceful rally in the German capital, with similar rallies of support for the Palestinians in Munich and Cologne.

In Athens, more than 2,000 people took part in a protest staged by left-wing organisations and Palestinians, shouting "Freedom for Palestine" before marching on to the Israeli embassy.

In Utrecht in the Netherlands some 500 people gathered to remember the Palestinian and Israeli civilians killed in the conflict, organisers IKV Pax Christi said.

A Gaza rally is planned for Madrid on Sunday.

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