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Israel's Herzog pleads for peace at Amsterdam Holocaust museum amid protest

Israel's Herzog pleads for peace at Amsterdam Holocaust museum amid protest

By Charlotte Van Campenhout, Piroschka van de Wouw and Hilde Verweij

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Israeli President Isaac Herzog, attending an opening of a Holocaust museum in Amsterdam on Sunday, called for prayers for peace and the immediate release of hostages taken by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack and still held by the Islamist militants.

As he arrived at the Portuguese Synagogue to make a speech, Herzog was greeted with booing from pro-Palestinian protesters demanding an immediate end to Israel's assault in Gaza.

Local health officials say nearly 31,000 Palestinians nC6N3FL005 have been killed since Israel launched its offensive in response to the attack on southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, with 134 still held, according to Israeli tallies.

"Hatred and anti-semitism are flourishing worldwide, and we must fight it together," Herzog said in his speech.

At a square nearby, protesters were chanting "Ceasefire now" and "Stop bombing children", while holding Palestinian flags and signs that said "Jews against genocide" and "The grandchild of a holocaust survivor says: Stop Gaza Holocaust".

Some set off fireworks and threw eggs at police while a few tried to climb police vans as the protest grew more tense in the afternoon. Local media reported at least a thousand protesters attended.

"(Herzog attending) is a slap in the face of victims both in Gaza and the Jews that starved in World War Two," protester Huibert Boer said.

Near the new museum, a group of people holding Israeli flags and pictures of hostages was confronted by some of the pro-Palestinian protesters, some shouting "shame on you", with police officers present to de-escalate tensions.

Human rights group Amnesty International put up detour signs around the museum to direct Herzog to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

A spokesperson for the president declined comment.

Dutch Jewish anti-zionist organisation Erev Rave, which organised the protest with the Dutch Palestinian Community and Socialists International, said that while it honoured the memory of Holocaust victims, it could not stand by while the war in Gaza https://www.reuters.com/world/israel-hamas/ continued.

Faced with international concerns about the heavy humanitarian toll of the war, Israel has been stressing that it did not start it and was doing everything possible to minimize civilian casualties, blaming Hamas for fighting in densely populated areas.

Herzog's remarks https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-herzog-gaza-genocide-claim-icj-atrocious-preposterous-2024-01-09/ that not only militants but "an entire nation" was responsible for the Oct. 7 attack and that Israel will fight "until we break their backbone" have been cited by South Africa in its International Court of Justice lawsuit https://www.reuters.com/world/south-africa-asks-world-court-more-measures-against-israel-2024-03-06/ against Israel.

But Herzog has said his comments were misrepresented, and only part of what he said was cited in order to build a case against Israel in the ICJ https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/key-takeaways-world-court-decision-israei-genocide-case-2024-01-26/#:~:text=THE%20HAGUE%2C%20Jan%2026%20(Reuters,calling%20for%20an%20immediate%20ceasefire.

Before he became president, a largely ceremonial role, Herzog used to head Israel's Labor party, which historically has advocated for making peace with Palestinians.

The museum told media that it had invited Herzog before the Hamas attack and Israel's subsequent offensive in Gaza.

It said in a statement it recognised that the president's attendance raised questions but that he represented the homeland of Dutch Holocaust survivors who emigrated to Israel.

Nazi Germany killed six million Jews during World War Two. Modern Israel was founded in 1948 as a safe haven for Jews.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander is set to meet Herzog later on Sunday.

(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout from Amsterdam, additional reporting by Mayaan Lubell from Jerusalem; Editing by Nick Macfie)