Thousands of protesters in London and Madrid marched in support of Palestinians on Saturday as the worst violence in years raged between Israel and militants in Gaza.
In London, several thousand protesters carrying placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanting “Free Palestine” converged on Marble Arch, near the British capital’s Hyde Park, to march toward the Israeli embassy.
In Madrid, some 2,500 people, many of them young people wrapped in Palestinian flags, marched to the Puerta del Sol plaza in the city center. “This is not a war, it’s genocide,” They chanted. “They are massacring us,” said Amira Sheikh-Ali, a 37-year-old of Palestinian origin.
“We’re in a situation when the Nakba is continuing in the middle of the 21st century,” she said, referring to the “catastrophe” word used by Palestinians to describe Israel’s creation in 1948, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out.
“We want to ask Spain and the European authorities not to collaborate with Israel, because with their silence, they are collaborating,” said Ikhlass Abousousiane, a 25-year-old nurse of Moroccan origin.
The marches came amid the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since a 2014 war in Gaza. Israel is fighting Hamas militants in Gaza, trying to contain an outbreak of internal Jewish-Arab clashes, and violence in the West Bank.
The Israeli bombardment began Monday, after the Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem.
That was in response to bloody Israeli police action at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, as well as a crackdown on protests against the planned Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in annexed east Jerusalem.
Since Monday, Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza have killed 139 people including 39 children, and wounded 1,000 more, health officials say. Palestinian armed groups have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel since, killing 10 people, including a child and a soldier. More than 560 Israelis have been wounded.
On Saturday US President Joe Biden has had his first phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since taking office, amid heavy fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip.
Mr Biden has dispatched an envoy to try to quell the violence that has killed over 150 people, but US, regional and international efforts have yet to show any signs of progress.
Mr Biden “stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel”, and the two men “expressed their shared concern that innocent civilians, including children, have tragically lost their lives amidst the ongoing violence”, a summary of the call released by the White House said.
The Health Ministry in Gaza said 41 children were among at least 145 people killed in the Gaza Strip, while Israeli authorities reported 10 dead, including two children.
The White House said Mr Biden conveyed “US commitment to strengthening the US-Palestinian partnership” and highlighted his administration’s recent decision to restore aid to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza that had been cut under former president Donald Trump.
In a call summary released by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Mr Biden is quoted as saying he opposed the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah, though the White House account of the conversation did not mention the case.
Previously on Friday UN chief Anotonio Guterres had appealed for an immediate halt to fighting between Gaza and Israel.
Secretary-General Guterres warned that the ongoing conflict could “unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism,” not just in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel but also elsewhere in the Middle East region.
A UN spokesman added that Guterres urged the parties to allow mediation efforts to intensify and end the fighting more quickly. He said that the UN was “actively involved” in those mediation efforts.
Guterres, who said only a sustainable political solution would lead to lasting peace, also reiterated his commitment to support Palestinians and Israelis in resolving the conflict, through the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the UN, US, EU and Russia — on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.
On Thursday US lawmaker Rashida Tlaib questioned US government’s “unconditional support” to Israel amid clashes with Palestine. Tlaib has been critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
“We must, with no hesitation, demand that our country recognize the unconditional support of Israel has enabled the erasure of Palestinian life and the denial of the rights of millions of refugees,” Tlaib said, often tearing up as she addressed the House of Representatives.
For its part Egypt sent 10 ambulances into Gaza on Saturday to pick up casualties of Israeli bombardments for treatment in Egyptian hospitals, medical and security sources said. The ambulances entered Gaza at the Rafah crossing, which is otherwise closed for five days over the Eid al-Fitr holiday and the weekend and is due to reopen on Monday.
A further five ambulances have been deployed to enter Gaza later and three Egyptian hospitals have been readied to provide treatment, the sources and local health officials said.
Sources: Arab News, ABC News, Wion, English Al-Arabiya