Israel-Palestine war: Thousands gather in London to denounce Gaza bombardment
Thousands of protesters poured onto the streets of central London on Saturday to demand that Israel halt its bombing campaign and siege of the Gaza Strip as it prepares for a possible ground invasion of the tiny Palestinian enclave.
Undeterred by warnings against waving the Palestinian flag, the protesters gathered outside the BBC's New Broadcasting House to denounce what they called "Israeli agression", as air strikes pounded the Gaza Strip for an eighth successive day.
Earlier on Saturday, the exterior of BBC studios in London was sprayed with red paint in protest against the channel's coverage of the conflict. Middle East Eye contacted the BBC for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication.
At the rally - organised by Friends of Al-Aqsa, Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and other groups - pro-Palestinian protesters could be heard chanting "Israel is a terrorist state" and "free Palestine" as they moved from Regent Street, one of London's main shopping thoroughfares, towards Westminster.
More than 1,000 police were deployed ahead of the protest, with the Metropolitan police warning that anyone showing support for Hamas, a group proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK, or deviating from the protest route could face arrest.
Many of the protesters MEE spoke to wore masks to conceal their identity, while police could be seen questioning some wearing bandanas and saying that only surgical masks "would be acceptable".
Tracy Adams, a student at a London University, said she chose to cover her face as she's living in the UK on a student visa.
"I'm here because the UK is justifying and supporting war crimes, which could lead to the death of thousands," Adams told MEE.
Israel has been bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip since last Saturday, when Palestinian fighters launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing at least 1,300 Israelis and taking scores more hostage.
The ensuing bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 2,215 Palestinians, with a large majority of them women and children.
On Thursday, the Israeli army ordered around 1.1 million Palestinians in north Gaza to head south and offered no guarantee of their return.
Palestinians have decried the bombing campaign as a "second Nakba", with many saying they would not leave their land.
The Nakba, or "catastrophe" as it is known in English, refers to the ethnic cleansing by Zionist militia of some 750,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes in historic Palestine to make way for the creation of Israel in 1948.
Since issuing the order, many of the Palestinians who fled to the south have found no reprieve from Israel's bombardment, with warplanes striking a four-storey building on Saturday, killing and wounding several people.
Since 7 October, Israel has also declared a "complete siege" of the enclave, cutting off water, food and power supplies.
The London protest came as the UK government faces sustained criticism from anti-war groups for offering robust support for Israel, a position that has also faced a backlash from some former British diplomats.
"I find the British government's knee-jerk endorsement of everything that Israel does obscene and a departure from previous stances in which we have sought some fairness in these dreadful situations," Sir Richard Dalton, a former UK ambassador to Iran and Libya, told Times Radio.
A protester named Sanj told MEE that she attended Saturday's rally because she couldn't witness the UK government support what she called a "genocide" in Gaza.
"Neither the government nor the opposition has made any kind of firm stance against the atrocities that Israel's committing on Gaza," said Sanj.
"And it's so empowering for so many people coming out and saying they refuse to stand by."
Labour councillors resign
On Friday, two councillors resigned from the opposition Labour Party over Sir Keir Starmer's position on the conflict.
Shaista Aziz and Amar Latif, who both sit on Oxford City Council, said they left the party because the Labour leader was "seeming to condone the collective punishment against the people of Gaza".
Speaking to LBC earlier this week, Starmer said Israel "does have that right" to withhold power and water from Palestinian civilians, though "everything should be done within international law".
Starmer, however, did not elaborate on how collective-punishment methods, such as the withdrawal of water supplies to a large urban area, could be done within international law.
The use of starvation of a civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited under customary international law.
In their resignation statement, the councillors said they "stand in solidarity with the people of Israel and Palestine and call for an end to violence and the humanitarian crisis".