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Thousands to march in London for pro-Palestinian protest as Gaza expects invasion

Thousands of people are expected to march in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in central London as police warn that anyone showing support for Hamas or deviating from the route could face arrest.

The Metropolitan Police Service will deploy more than 1,000 officers to police the demonstration, in which people will be marching in solidarity with Palestine and demanding Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian land, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

Palestinians have begun a mass exodus from northern Gaza after Israel’s military told them to evacuate ahead of an expected ground invasion.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK was doing “everything we can to ensure the security of British citizens” after the Defence Secretary said it seemed “very likely” that there are British hostages in Gaza.

The UK Government had struggled to arrange repatriation flights from Israel but a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said on Friday evening that a government chartered flight has left Israel with further flights expected to leave in the coming days.

The FCDO did not confirm where the flight was due to land.

Three Britons are confirmed to have lost their lives during the weekend’s assault on Israel, but reports have suggested at least 17 could be among the casualties.

The war has claimed at least 2,800 lives on both sides since Hamas launched an incursion on October 7, with Israel placing the 25-mile Gaza Strip under siege and subjecting it to a torrent of retaliatory air strikes.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf called for an end to deaths in Gaza and for the international community to “step up”, amid the evacuation orders.

Mr Yousaf said there was “no justification for the death of innocent men, women and children”.

His in-laws are trapped in Gaza, and his wife Nadia El-Nakla has spoken of her torment at the prospect of her relatives living in a refugee camp with no food or water.

The march on Saturday follows calls from Mr Sunak on Israel to “protect ordinary Palestinians and facilitate humanitarian aid” and from the Archbishop of Canterbury for a Gaza humanitarian corridor.

Justin Welby said in a statement: “I plead that the sins of Hamas are not borne by the citizens of Gaza, who themselves have faced such suffering over many decades.

“The price of evil cannot be paid by the innocent. Civilians cannot bear the costs of terrorists.”

A Section 12 will be in force from midday covering the demonstration route, which starts at Portland Place and finishes in Whitehall.

Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor told a press briefing on Friday: “Whilst people have the right to protest, they do not have the right to incite violence, they do not have the right to incite hatred and they do not have the right to commit criminal offences and we will robustly police that situation.”

Waving a proscribed flag in support of Hamas or other proscribed organisations at the protest will be an offence.

At the same briefing, Mr Taylor told of a “massive increase” in antisemitic crime and incidents since the Israel-Hamas conflict.

He said the force has seen an increase in Islamophobic incidents as well, “but nothing like the scale of the increase in antisemitism”.

Mr Sunak condemned the “disgusting rise” in antisemitism.

The Prime Minister said intimidating behaviour and inciting violence or hatred will not be tolerated and will instead be met “with the full force of the law”.

No 10 announced that £3 million in extra funding will be given to provide the Jewish community with additional protection, with strengthened security at schools and synagogues.

A small number of schools in north London were closed due to safety fears.

Contractors working at Ateres Beis Yaakov primary school in Hendon, which was closed on Friday, said they had been asked to “raise the fence” to make it harder for people to “reach over”.

Gates were locked at Menorah High School and Torah Vodaas Primary School in Barnet on Friday, with no staff or pupils seen on site.