Page last updated at 22:52 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

Thousands protest in UK over Gaza

Gaza protests in London
Police says around 3,500 protesters gathered in London

Thousands of people have protested in cities across the UK to call for an end to Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Police estimated 3,500 gathered in London where former minister Tony Benn addressed crowds in Trafalgar Square.

Organisers of a Birmingham rally said more than 5,000 people had turned up, although police estimated about 3,000.

The demonstrations came before Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said offensive military activities in the Gaza Strip would be halted.

Protests also took place in Dundee and Leeds.

Similar events were held a week ago.

Mr Olmert's announcement came in a televised address following a late-night cabinet meeting.

He said Israel's operation in Gaza had fully achieved its aims, with the militant group Hamas badly damaged militarily and in terms of infrastructure.

Earlier, a Hamas spokesman said it would fight until its demands were met, including an Israeli withdrawal.

'Moral responsibility'

In Birmingham, some protesters burned the Israeli flag while others carried stretchers with representations of bodies.

The London event ended with a small minority of protesters in the West End looting and damaging two Starbucks coffee shops, police said. A similar incident took place a week ago.

Israelis have targeted places where they know there are women and children. I think [Foreign Secretary] David Miliband has to do more
Labour MP Diane Abbott

Commander Bob Broadhurst, in charge of Public Order Policing for the Met, said: "Thousands of people expressed their views in an earlier, lawful, rally in Trafalgar Square...

"What followed was totally unacceptable criminal behaviour by a small minority who do not appear to care about any cause."

Police say they contained a group of up to 200 people in Piccadilly which they believed was making its way to the Israeli Embassy in Kensington High Street after the rally.

About 40 people were also contained in Hyde Park to prevent a further breach of the peace, police added.

Former Labour minister Tony Benn had told the crowds in Trafalgar Square: "It is a moral responsibility for all of us. People are being killed not so far away from here, women and children."

After the demonstration, a delegation of 200 women and children went to Downing Street to hand in a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The group included many children carrying dolls to symbolise the children killed in the conflict.

Labour MP Diane Abbott was with the group and said: "So many children have died - these are innocent children.

"Israelis have targeted places where they know there are women and children. I think [Foreign Secretary] David Miliband has said some of the right things but he has to do more."

Chris Khamis, chairman of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, said: "People from all religions and no religions, and including Jews, have come here to express their outrage and demand that this medieval siege is brought to an end."

PROTESTS ACROSS THE UK
Protesters in Dundee
Protesters gathered at a number of UK cities, including Dundee

Protests have also taken place in Cardiff, Dundee, Nottingham, Liverpool, Norwich and Cambridge.

The most recent events were organised by Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, British Muslim Association and other groups.

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza has told the BBC that 1,193 people have been killed, including 410 children and 108 women, since the conflict began on 27 December.

There were 5,300 people wounded, including 1,600 children, the ministry said.

Thirteen Israelis, mostly soldiers, have been killed during the campaign.

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