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Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 21:13 GMT 22:13 UK
Angry scenes at anti-Israel demo
London rally
Between 10-15,000 people joined the rally
Protesters have burned Israeli and American flags during angry scenes at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London.

Thousands of people peacefully attended the rally in Hyde Park to protest against Israeli military action in the West Bank.

But some of the demonstrators tore and burnt Israeli and American flags as they clambered up Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.

You must raise your voice, but in a peaceful way

Protester Mumtaz Ahmed

A petition was due to be handed into Downing Street afterwards, calling for sanctions against Israel.

Police said about 10-15,000 people took part in the demonstration, which began in Hyde Park and moved to Trafalgar Square.

But the organisers claim the figure was more than double that.

The rally comes after the Israel's ambassador in London was summoned to the Foreign Office to explain his country's actions in the West Bank.

Scotland Yard said no arrests had been made during the peaceful protest.

The BBC's Martha Doyle said: "Feelings are running high.

Intense emotions

"People are very angry and upset about what is happening in the Middle East.

Protester holds Palestinian flag
Protesters called for Israeli sanctions

"Many people have relatives there.

"I have spoken to men who have been in tears concerned for their relatives and people suffering there," she said.

The protest's organiser, the Muslim Association of Britain, appealed for order.

But scores of people crammed into the centre of Trafalgar Square shouting: "Down with Israel."

Banners carried by protesters, some of whom were masked, read "Free Palestine - Victory to the Intifada" and "Stop Bush and Blair's War Drive".

Strong sentiments

Former MP Tony Benn said they were demonstrating for the right of the Palestinians to be given their own state.

"We are demonstrating against what President Bush called `a crusade' against the Muslim world.

"The only reason that Bush wants peace in Palestine is so that he can start a war in Iraq."

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said: "The message to Tony Blair is now clear, he must stop speaking on behalf of George Bush and instead on behalf of peace and justice in the Middle East."

Representatives of the Stop the War Coalition and CND were also expected to be among the speakers.

Michel Massih, chairman of the Palestinian community in the UK, said Christians, Muslims and a small number of Jews were among the protesters.

"This demonstration reflects that right across the religious divide there is widespread support for the Palestinian cause," he said.

A spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, condemned the few flag-burning incidents.

"When you have thousands of people at such an event, there is always going to be a minority who you cannot control," he said.

"The most important thing at the end of the day is that we showed support to the Palestinian people. It is not an issue of Muslims versus Jews, it is an issue of human rights."

Mumtaz Ahmed, 45, a chartered accountant from Glasgow, put the flag-burning down to a few frustrated youngsters.

"You must raise your voice, but in a peaceful way."

Suicide bombing

Tensions escalated on Friday when a suicide bomber killed six Israelis in Jerusalem.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat made a statement condemning "all terrorist acts which target civilians."

Britain has called for the Israelis to withdraw, but Downing Street has not yet committed to a UN suggestion to send an international force into the territories.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met the Israeli ambassador Zvi Shtauber on Friday to express these concerns.

On Saturday Israeli forces reportedly made new incursions into Palestinian territory on the West Bank.

The BBC's Fiona Werge
"2,000 peace activists, carrying food and medical supplies, attempted to break the ring of israeli steel surrounding Jenin"
See also:

13 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Straw berates Israeli ambassador
13 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat condemns 'terrorist acts'
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Jerusalem attack
13 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel moves deeper into West Bank
10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair issues new Mid-East peace call
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel stalls over troop withdrawal
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Powell runs into trouble
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