IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

European protesters urge end to Gaza attacks

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in European cities on Saturday against Israel's bombardment of Gaza.
Germany Israel Palestinians
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators take part in a protest Saturday against Israel's military operation in Gaza, on Saturday, in Duesseldorf, Germany.Roberto Pfeil / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in European cities on Saturday against Israel's bombardment of Gaza, including protesters who hurled shoes at the tall iron gates outside the British prime minister's residence in London and waved Palestinian flags.

Amid increasing criticism of Israel, international diplomatic efforts are growing to end the strikes, which have killed more than 460 people and left 1,700 injured. On Saturday, Israeli ground forces entered Gaza in a significant escalation of its weeklong offensive.

In London, at least 10,000 people, many carrying Palestinian flags, marched past Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Outside Downing Street, hundreds of protesters stopped and threw shoes at the gates that block entry to the narrow road.

Shoe-throwing has become a popular gesture of protest and contempt since an Iraqi journalist pelted U.S. President George W. Bush with a pair of brogues in Baghdad last month.

Police estimated the crowd in London at 10,000 to 12,000, but organizers said the number was much higher. The marchers included activist Bianca Jagger, ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and comedian Alexei Sayle.

"As a Jew, it's very moving to see so many people who are so outraged at Israel's actions," Sayle said. "Israel is a democratic country that is behaving like a terrorist organization."

After the rally, a smaller group of about 2,000 protesters marched on the Israeli Embassy in west London, and some youths scuffled with police and hurled objects at officers in riot gear. Several demonstrators were led away by police after leaping over metal barriers holding them back from the embassy.

Protests span Europe
Rallies also were held in other British cities — including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow — and across Europe. Protests in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin all drew thousands of people.

In Paris, police said 21,000 marched through the streets, shouting "We are all Palestinians" and "Israel assassin." Later, a small group of protesters burned Israeli flags, set fire to at least three cars and smashed shop and cafe windows in a central Paris area popular with shoppers. Riot police attempted to contain the violence.

Angry protests continued for a second day in Turkey, where about 5,000 demonstrators shouted "killer Israel" in downtown Ankara.

In The Netherlands, thousands of people marched through Amsterdam, criticizing both the Israeli attacks and the Dutch government's failure to condemn them. One banner declared: "Anne Frank is turning in her grave. Oh Israel!"

More than 4,000 people demonstrated in Duesseldorf, Germany, and some 5,000 in Frankfurt. One group in Duesseldorf held up a doll representing a bleeding baby with the placard "Made in Israel."

In Berlin, more than 7,000 people braved freezing temperatures for a march along the capital's Unter den Linden boulevard.

Another 2,500 demonstrated in Salzburg, Austria, while scores protested peacefully in Madrid outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry.

Hundreds more marched in the Swedish cities of Malmo and Uppsala, while in Oslo, Norway demonstrators marched from the parliament to the Israeli Embassy, calling on Israel to "let Gaza live."

Outbreaks of violence
Most of the protests were peaceful, but in Athens, Greece — the scene of violent demonstrations by anarchist youths over the past month — a few of the 5,000 protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at police outside the Israeli Embassy. Riot police retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades.

In Cyprus, demonstrators pelted riot police with rocks, sticks, shoes and oranges near the Israeli Embassy in Nicosia. A peaceful protest by about 2,000 people turned violent when some protesters tried to break through a line of police blocking the road leading to the embassy. The demonstrators eventually dispersed.

Israel says it is responding to rockets fired from Gaza by the Hamas militant group. Four Israelis also have been killed in the week of violence.

Brown's office said Saturday the British leader had phoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and called for an immediate cease-fire.

"Rocket attacks from Hamas must stop, and we have called for a halt to Israeli military action in Gaza," a spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "Too many have died and we need space to get humanitarian supplies to those who need them."

The Israeli airstrikes have badly damaged Gaza's infrastructure, knocking out power and water in many areas and raising fears of humanitarian disaster.

Israel says it may launch a ground invasion of Gaza in its bid to wipe out the threat from Hamas, which holds political power in the territory.

Bush has declined to criticize Israel, branding Hamas rocket fire an "act of terror." But he has joined other world leaders in calling for an internationally monitored truce. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also has backed a cease-fire, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit the region next week as part of a diplomatic effort to stop the violence.