PARIS – French riot police fired tear gas and used water cannons Saturday in Paris as protesters supporting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip defied a ban on marching in the French capital.
Thousands of people marched peacefully in other cities in France and elsewhere in Europe — including in London, Rome, Brussels and Madrid — to highlight the plight of the Palestinians.
In Paris, protesters scattered and played cat-and-mouse with security forces in the city's northern neighborhoods after their starting point for a planned march was blocked.
Paris Police Chief Didier Lallement had ordered 4,200 security forces into the streets and closed shops around the kick-off point for the march in a working-class neighborhood after an administrative court confirmed the ban due to fears of violence. Authorities noted that a banned July 2014 pro-Palestinian protest In Paris against an Israeli offensive in Gaza degenerated into violence to justify the order against Saturday’s march.
Organizers sought to “denounce the latest Israeli aggressions” and mark the fleeing of Palestinians after Israel declared independence in 1948. “Stop Annexation. Palestine Will Vanquish,” read one poster in a small crowd facing off with police.
Protesters shifted from neighborhood to neighborhood in Paris as police closed in on them, sometimes with tear gas and water cannons, and police said 44 people were arrested. In a lengthy standoff, protesters pelted a line of security forces with projectiles before police pushed them to the edge of northern Paris.
“We don't want scenes of violence. We don't want a conflict imported to French soil,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.
Anger over the Israeli offensive in Gaza drew protests elsewhere in Europe on Saturday. Thousands marched on the Israeli Embassy in London to protest Israel’s attacks, which included an airstrike that flattened a 12-story building in Gaza that housed media outlets, including The Associated Press.
Demonstrators chanting “Free Palestine!” marched through London's Hyde Park and gathered outside the embassy gates, watched by a large number of police. Organizers demanded that the British government stop its military and financial support to Israel.
Husam Zumlot, head of the Palestinian mission to the U.K., told the crowd that “this time is different.”
“This time we will not be denied any more. We are united. We have had enough of oppression,” he said.
In the Netherlands, a few hundred people in The Hague braved the cold and rain to listen to speeches and wave Palestinian flags on a central square outside the Dutch parliament building. On Friday evening, Dutch police briefly detained about 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the city of Utrecht because they were not social distancing.
In other French cities, large pro-Palestinian crowds marched peacefully Saturday in Strasbourg in the east and Marseille on the Mediterranean Sea. Demonstrations were also held in several German cities and in Brussels, host to the European Union. In Madrid, protesters chanted “This is not war, this is genocide!” in Spanish, with some people holding up homemade signs that read ““USA Terrorist State” and “Muslim Lives Matter.”
In Berlin, police broke up a pro-Palestinian protest of 3,500 people for failure to comply with coronavirus distancing rules. Protesters responded by throwing stones, bottles and fireworks.
Jill Lawless in London, Mike Corder in Netherlands and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.