Thousands attend pro-Palestinian rallies in Australia

Heavy police presence around gathering in Sydney's Hyde Park

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Thousands of people attended pro-Palestinian rallies in Australian state capitals on Sunday despite police threats to curb them, amid tensions over a bloody incursion into Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas eight days ago.

One of the largest rallies was in Sydney, the capital of the country's most populous state of New South Wales, where protest organiser, the Palestine Action Group, said about 5,000 attended. A Reuters witness estimated the crowd to be about 2,000.

The rallies were held as Israel's military prepared for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, where more than 2,000 people have been killed and more than 9,000 injured in eight days of Israeli bombardment since the Hamas killed more than 1,300 people in Israel near the border of the Palestinian territory.

Many demonstrators waved Palestine flags and chanted "Free Palestine" in Sydney's Hyde Park, as hundreds of police patrolled the area and nearby streets, and a police helicopter circled low overhead.

Police had been considering applying special stop-and-search powers for the first time in almost two decades for people attending the rally, but a Palestine Action Group representative, Amal Naser, said such powers had not been used.

The rally was "peaceful so far", Mr Naser said on Sunday.

Pro-Palestine rallies were also being held on Sunday in state capitals Adelaide and Melbourne, where thousands protested, according to The Guardian Australia.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters also gathered in the US capital on Saturday, marching past the White House to chants of "Free Palestine" as the death toll continued to climb in the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

"What is happening today is just beyond the pale," demonstrator Linda Houghton said in Washington. "It's so upsetting, we are watching people being killed by an army that this country supports."

Across the country, Americans have held pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests in the past week as Israel vowed to press on with its retaliation against Hamas that has created a dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

More than one million people in the northern part of the crowded enclave have been ordered to flee ahead of the expected Israeli ground assault, an exodus that aid groups said would worsen the humanitarian disaster.

Israel has also cut off food, water and electricity supplies to Gaza's 2.4 million people.

Clashes in the occupied West Bank have killed 53 Palestinians in the past week.

"I wish we could all do something, I wish we could stop the war, just stop the war," said Ahmed Abed, one of the protesters marching through Washington under a sea of Palestinian flags.

"They are in prison," he said of the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Signs carried by marchers included messages such as "End the occupation" and "Ceasefire now".

In New York, home to the world's largest Jewish population outside of Israel, hundreds gathered in Brooklyn on Friday in solidarity against Israel's offensive, wielding a banner emblazoned with the message "Jews Say Stop Genocide Against Palestinians".

Jewish New Yorkers have been split, with some voices urging Israel to defend itself and others increasingly warning of a Palestinian "genocide".

Two days after the Hamas attack, Arthur Schneier, the long-time senior rabbi at Manhattan's Park East Synagogue, called the assault "the most existential threat to Israel since its founding in 1948".

On the other side of the country, more than 1,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched in Los Angeles on Saturday, local media reported.

Videos on social media showed tense moments between the crowd and pro-Israel counterprotesters.

Updated: October 15, 2023, 8:55 AM