Pro-Palestinian protests held in Germany, France amid heightening tensions
Thousands of people took to the streets of cities across Germany and France on Saturday to protest Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip.
In Germany, the protesters shouted “Freedom for Palestine” and commemorated Nakba Day, referring to the Palestinian “catastrophe,” which remembers the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
Around 2,500 people demonstrated for a free Palestine in Frankfurt city centre.
Many of the participants came with Palestinian flags.
There were no major incidents, according to a police spokesperson.
The police broke up the gathering at 6 p.m (1600 GMT) because there had reportedly been violations of the regulations.
There were tumultuous scenes at a pro-Palestinian rally in the south-western city of Stuttgart, police said.
There were no injuries, a police spokesperson added.
There were significantly more people than the 50 registered, and at the same time there were also counter-demonstrators.
There were conflicts between the different groups of demonstrators as well as with the police.
Further to the south-west in Freiburg, the police spoke of a partly heated atmosphere at a rally with up to 600 participants, also organised by the initiative “Palestine Speaks.”
There were banners with provocative – but not criminally relevant – content: Both the rally leader and the police had persuaded the participants to refrain from doing so, police said.Earlier, services by the Jewish community had been held on the same square.
A 17-year-old insulted a man of the Jewish faith, according to the police.
Criminal proceedings were initiated against the youth.
In the same south-western region, in the city of Mannheim, police reported that police officers were pelted with stones after the break-up of a pro-Palestinian rally.
Four officers were slightly injured, a spokesperson said on Saturday evening.
In addition, a man tried to set fire to an Israeli flag.
The police stopped him and arrested him.
The police are also investigating a banner with allegedly criminal content.
According to the police, the rally with up to 500 people was stopped on Saturday afternoon because the Coronavirus (COVID-19) distance rules were not respected.
Afterwards, several groups marched through the city. Because no follow-up events were allowed, the police are investigating two groups for violations of the assembly law and possibly also for breach of the peace, according to the spokesperson.
Some 120 people marched to the administrative buildings of the district of Neukoelln in Berlin, protesting peacefully.
Another demonstration nearby attracted 3,500 people and turned violent when the police broke it up due to breaches of the coronavirus regulations, the police said.
Protesters threw bottles and stones as well as firecrackers at the police.
The police also said protesters hit officers, and officers used pepper spray. It was unclear whether there were any arrests.
Cologne in western Germany saw 800 people gather to defend the Palestinian cause and protest against Israel, demanding “Freedom for Palestine” and “Stop the genocide.”
Protesters also carried signs saying “Against Zionists – not against Jews.”
The organisers shut the rally down early because more people showed up than expected, violating coronavirus regulations.
An unknown person tried to set fire to an Israeli flag. When the police tried to intervene, he disappeared into the crowd.
After the dispersal of the action, up to 150 demonstrators refused to leave the square. The police forced the group apart.
One man allegedly punched a police officer in the face. He was taken into custody. In addition, police officers were allegedly mobbed and a policewoman was insulted. Three other people were taken into custody.
In Hamburg, some 120 people demonstrated peacefully in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
They carried signs showing the map of the Palestinian Territories and Palestinian flags.
The rally was later broken up as the crowd swelled to 500 people and the atmosphere got more charged when people appeared with Israeli flags, a police spokesperson said.
A massive police presence accompanied protests in the northern city of Hanover, where about 300 people took part in events by different groups – some in solidarity with the Palestinian people, others in solidarity with Israel.
Police said the situation was calm in the afternoon.
The two camps also squared off in eastern Leipzig, where at times 400 pro-Palestinian protesters stood face-to-face with a pro-Israeli rally with 200 people.
While demonstrators engaged in heated discussion, the situation remained calm, the police said.
Several German cities have seen anti-Israel rallies in the wake of the resurging conflict between Israel and Gaza.
Anti-Semitic incidents were seen at some protests.
In the western city of Gelsenkirchen, 180 people marched from the train station to a synagogue chanting anti-Semitic slogans.
The German government has strongly condemned anti-Semitic acts at the protests and promised to ramp up protection for Jewish institutions.
In Paris, France, despite a ban, large numbers of people gathered on Saturday for a pro-Palestinian demonstration.
Police used tear gas and water cannon to try to disperse the first groups of demonstrators, the broadcaster Franceinfo reported on Saturday afternoon.
Around 4,200 police officers were deployed in the French capital, according to the report.
By 7.00 p.m. (1700 GMT), 44 people had been arrested there, according to the police, and one policeman was injured.
People demonstrated in the capital to mark Nakba Day, especially in Paris’ 18th district, where the police had previously ordered shopkeepers to close their businesses.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, between 2,500 and 3,500 people took to the streets in Paris, French media reported.
According to official figures, around 22,000 people demonstrated throughout France.
There were also demonstrations in cities like Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon and Strasbourg.
Nakba Day, referring to the Palestinian “catastrophe” marks the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
The Paris police prefecture had previously banned the demonstration on the orders of Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin.
A court confirmed the decision.
It justified the ban on the grounds that public order had been massively disrupted in 2014.
Thousands of people demonstrated seven years ago against the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip at the time.
Rioters also attacked a synagogue and Jewish shops.
The organisers stuck to their call for a demonstration despite the ban.
The police, therefore, assumed that there could be riots – especially as the current tensions in Israel and the Palestinians could draw large crowds to the rally.
The Paris area Palestinian Association had sharply criticised the ban on the demonstration.
“We have no interest in being violent’’, Pauline Salingue of the New Anticapitalist Party, which supports the demonstration, told Franceinfo radio.
“We will participate in demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine, whether they are authorised or banned.’’