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Monday, 6 May, 2002, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Thousands come to support Israel
Rally
The rally was to protest "for peace in the Middle East"
Tens of thousands of Jewish demonstrators have gathered for a rally in central London to show solidarity with Israel.

Police estimated more than 30,000 people attended the Israel Solidarity Rally in Trafalgar Square.

The event organisers said it was the UK's biggest show of support for the Middle East country for a generation.


The aim is to say yes to peace and no to terror

Israel Solidarity Rally spokesman
But the campaigners faced opposition from up to 400 mainly Muslim protesters, separated by police, who staged counter-demonstrations.

The rally was organised to protest "for peace and the resumption of talks in the Middle East."

A spokesman said it was not in support or otherwise of current Israeli Government policies, but simply to say there should be peace for the people of Israel.

"The aim is to say yes to peace and no to terror," he said.

History

The crowds gathered for the event carried Israeli flags, the Union flag and placards calling for an end to suicide bombings.

A number of high profile speakers addressed the rally, including former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Labour MP Peter Mandelson, Conservative Deputy Leader and Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram, and Chief Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks.


The question isn't whether Israel will fight but whether we will fight alone

Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli Prime Minister
Mr Netanyahu thanked the British Jews and all Britons for their support.

He said if it had not been for Britain's resistance to Nazism, the course of history may have been very different.

"Britain stands before another road now and it must choose between two opposing paths. The path of appeasing terror or the path of confronting terror," he said.

He called on other nations to support Israel, saying: "Israel is determined to fight. The question isn't whether Israel will fight but whether we will fight alone."

The only route to peace would be replacing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with a new leader, he added.

'Vision of peace'

Peter Mandelson, Labour MP for Hartlepool, said the Israeli-Palestinian dispute could only be settled by both sides actively engaging in the peace process.

"By building a peace process and rebuilding it and rebuilding it, every time it falters or fails we must demonstrate to those with legitimate grievances that they can achieve a just outcome - but only by pursuing a political route.

Former Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu: "Replace Yasser Arafat"
"Violence and terror will only delay and obstruct the just outcome they seek.

"Politics not violence secures peoples' lives."

The former Northern Ireland secretary said a vision of peace benefiting all had sustained the peace process.

"In the Middle East, this vision is of an Israel secure within its borders, its existence unchallenged, its people never with their bags packed, never prepared to run again.

"And it is the equivalent for the Palestinian people - a viable, independent state, one that brings not just freedom but responsibility too, fulfilling all the obligations of international law."

The gathering was policed by up to 1,000 officers.

Police said there had been some pushing and shoving but the event had passed peacefully and there had been no arrests.

'Provocation'

But some Muslim groups said they found the timing of the event "offensive".

Massoud Shadjareh, the chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "We feel that in the light of the recent massacres in Jenin it's extremely insensitive to organise a rally and blatantly say they support the state of Israel.

"It's extremely offensive, not just to one community but to all of us who believe in certain absolute values."

Kumar Murshid, chairman of the London Muslim Coalition, said the Israeli rally could not have come at a more insensitive time.

He said: "People feel this is provocation.

"If the purpose of this rally is to support the Israeli government and its position then it's clearly not a step in the direction of peace but quite the contrary. People feel very strongly about that."

The Israeli Solidarity Rally spokesman said: "It's a shame the Muslim groups don't want to join in but we are calling for a resumption to peace talks, and we aren't going to be distracted by people looking to wind up trouble."

Members of the organisation Jews for Justice for Peace were also staging a counter-demonstration.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Ravenscroft
"The message was clear"
Organiser David Cohen
"We tried to make the rally very balanced"
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