Tens of thousands of protesters gathered across the Middle East and beyond on Friday to support the Palestinians and condemn Israel as it stepped up its strikes on Gaza in retaliation for Hamas attacks.
Jewish communities in France and elsewhere were also holding rallies in solidarity with Israel after Hamas’ cross-border attack from Gaza, the deadliest killing of Israeli civilians in the country’s 75-year history.
France and Germany have banned pro-Palestinian protests and several Western countries have said they have increased security at synagogues and Jewish schools, fearing the demonstrations could lead to violence.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, urged Palestinians to rise up in protest against Israeli bombardment of the blockaded coastal enclave, calling on them to march on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem and confront Israeli troops in the West Bank busy.
The complex in East Jerusalem’s Old Walled City is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina, and the holiest to Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.
Last weekend’s attack by Hamas – designated a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union and other governments – on Israeli communities killed at least 1,300 people. Most were civilians, including women and children.
Since then, Israel has bombarded densely populated Gaza with airstrikes and artillery fire, and more than 1,500 Palestinians have been killed. A land invasion of the besieged enclave appears imminent.
Western governments and many citizens have shown strong support and sympathy for Israel following the Hamas attacks, but the Israeli response has also sparked anger, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world.
Pain on both sides
In Baghdad on Friday, tens of thousands of Iraqis gathered in central Tahrir Square, waving Palestinian flags and burning the Israeli flag while chanting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans.
“We are ready to join the fight and rid Palestinians of Israeli atrocities,” said Muntadhar Kareem, 25, a teacher.
He was dressed in a white shroud, like most of the demonstrators, to symbolize their desire to fight to the death.
State-organized rallies took place across Iran – whose government is Hamas’ main backer and one of Israel’s main enemies – in support of the militant group and against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, the media reported. state television.
“Death to Israel. Death to Zionism!” » shouted demonstrators, many of whom carried Palestinian flags and those of the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem spoke at a rally where hundreds of people had gathered in solidarity with the Palestinians.
He said the party was “fully ready” to contribute to the fighting. The group already clashed with Israel across the Lebanese border last week.
Other rallies were organized in Palestinian camps as well as in Lebanese towns where Hezbollah has a strong presence.
In Indonesia, Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, joined dozens of people in a march against Israel in the Javanese city of Solo.
“We cannot be weak in the face of Israel,” he said in a speech to demonstrators waving Palestinian flags.
In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, activists protested Israel’s actions after Friday prayers at the main mosque. Members of Japan’s Muslim community demonstrated near the Israeli embassy in Tokyo, holding signs and chanting “Israel, terrorist” and “free Palestine.”
In Sri Lanka, protesters held signs saying: “Palestine, you will never walk alone.” Protesters also took to the streets in India’s Kashmir region, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt.
Pro-Palestinian rallies were planned in several European cities later Friday.
Prayers for peace
On the other side of the conflict, Jews were also expected to hold vigils and rallies in support of Israel in European cities.
In Warsaw, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, was to lead a multifaith prayer for peace. Members of France’s Jewish community were to gather Friday afternoon at Paris’ largest synagogue for the Sabbath.
French police fired tear gas and water cannons in Paris on Thursday evening to disperse a banned rally in support of the Palestinians, while President Emmanuel Macron urged people to refrain from fueling the Israel-Hamas conflict. In France.
His government had previously banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations, saying they risked causing public disturbances.
Law enforcement in the United States has taken steps to protect Jewish and Muslim communities ahead of pro-Palestinian protests.
In the Netherlands, Jewish schools were closed on Friday for security reasons, while in London, two Jewish schools also closed for security reasons. Britain has seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks since the start of the war, the Jewish charity Community Security Trust said.
In Berlin, home to one of the largest Palestinian diasporas outside the Middle East, police refused to allow a pro-Palestinian demonstration, while security measures at Jewish institutions such as synagogues were increased. Some other German states have imposed a blanket ban on pro-Palestinian protests.
In Portugal, security agencies said they were stepping up protection around Jewish sites after the fence of the Porto synagogue was vandalized with graffiti saying “Liberate Palestine” and “End Israeli Apartheid” .