More than 10,000 pro-Palestine supporters have marched in central London calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, in the first such demonstration since the UN’s top court ordered Israel to ensure it does not commit acts of genocide.
Scotland Yard estimated that around 10,000 demonstrators marched through the capital’s West End of London, with the crowd swelling to double that size for the speeches in Whitehall.
Hundreds of officers from the Metropolitan Police were on duty with additional dispersal powers as the march started at Portland Place and headed to Whitehall.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said it was the “eighth national march held for the Palestinian people”, following Hamas’s brutal massacre on 7 October in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 kidnapped before Israel retaliated with months of attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding thousands.
It comes as the UK becomes increasingly embroiled in rising tensions in the Middle East, with Britain and the United States striking Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.
Iraq warned the region was “on the brink of the abyss” on Saturday after the US struck 85 targets at seven facilities across Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a drone attack last week which killed three American troops and injured dozens more in northeastern Jordan.
Demonstrators in London carried banners on Saturday which read “end the killing”, “free the children” and “freedom to Palestine”, accompanied by harrowing images of the bloodshed since the conflicted erupted.
Officers were on the look out for offensive placards and banners, with staff also monitoring the protest by CCTV to sport other offences or to find suspects, a spokesperson said.
PSC director Ben Jamal said: “We are marching again because we know we are on the right side of history and we will stand always with the oppressed and never with the oppressor.”
More than 27,000 people have been killed and 66,000 wounded by Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled territory’s health ministry said on Thursday.
Ahead of the march, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Ward, who is leading the policing operation, said: “We respect the right of people to protest, but other Londoners and visitors have rights as well.
“I understand the cumulative impact of repeated protests since October on businesses, residents and those who want to travel into the West End. Getting the balance between competing rights can be difficult, but we will do it independently, impartially and always within the law.”
Earlier this week, Britain said future funding for a UN relief agency that helps Palestinians hinges on the outcome of inquiries into allegations that staff took part in the 7 October attack on Israel.
Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is “critical” to delivering humanitarian aid into Gaza and the region, but added the UK is “appalled” by the allegations of agency staff being involved in the atrocities.
The UK joined the US, Australia, Italy and other countries in pausing funding for UNRWA after it sacked a number of staff accused of taking part in the October attack. The funding pause has sparked concerns about the impact the decision will have on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Meawhile, several opposition MPs have pressed the UK government to suspend arms sales to Israel following an interim ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The ICJ stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza in a genocide case filed by South Africa, but it demanded that Israel tries to contain death and damage in its military offensive.
Additional reporting by PA