German police injured as Gaza conflict 'escalates on Berlin streets'

Unrest sparks new migration debate as Chancellor Olaf Scholz orders crackdown on anti-Semitism

Pro-Palestinian protests in Berlin have led to clashes with police. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

The conflict in Gaza is “escalating on Berlin’s streets”, with dozens of police officers injured in clashes with pro-Palestinian protesters, according to the police union.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told authorities on Thursday to shut down rallies if anti-Semitic slogans are likely to be shouted and “people’s deaths will be glorified”.

The unrest has sparked a sensitive debate over migration, with some politicians seizing on anti-Israel rallies to demand a tougher stance and urging Mr Scholz to promise that no refugees will be taken in from Gaza.

Stephan Weh, a Berlin police union chief, blamed violence in the capital on a “pro-Palestinian community that has grown up over the years” and accused some of its members of “glorifying extremist terrorist attacks”.

“Anyone who seeks our protection, our hospitality and our democratic co-existence cannot contradict our laws and demand asylum,” said Mr Weh, who revealed that police had been attacked with bottles and fireworks.

The union asked for greater powers to use drones and video surveillance in a statement that said the “conflict in the Middle East is escalating on Berlin’s streets”.

Officers were injured by “stones, flammable liquids and acts of resistance” in the latest overnight clashes in Berlin, according to police officials, who said 65 people were injured and 174 arrested.

Police intervened in Berlin’s Neukoelln neighbourhood, an area with a large Arab and Turkish population that has often been associated with community tensions.

Hours earlier, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in the city centre in an incident that Germany’s Central Council of Jews described as a terrorist attack.

Jens Spahn, a senior figure in the centre-right opposition, spoke of “security risks from unregulated migration”, describing unrest on the streets as “the consequences of our naivety”.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party went further by saying Germany should “send a clear signal that the admission of further migrants from the region is ruled out”.

Berlin’s Mayor Kai Wegner vowed on Thursday that the city “will not let itself be divided, not on our streets, not in front of mosques, churches or synagogues”.

He said Berlin “must not become a place of fear for Jewish people” as he promised police would use “all available means” to ensure security. Germany is particularly sensitive about anti-Semitic incidents because of its responsibility for the Holocaust.

Israel’s embassy in Germany condemned footage of protesters chanting “free Palestine from German guilt”, saying they were twisting the post-war credo of “never again”.

On returning from a visit to Israel and Egypt, Mr Scholz said in parliament on Thursday that anti-Semitism “has no place in Germany” as he told police to crack down on unrest.

He said local authorities “cannot allow” gatherings at which hate crimes are likely and where people “fear that anti-Semitic slogans will be shouted and people’s deaths will be glorified”.

Mr Scholz called for humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in Gaza, whom he described as victims of Hamas. He repeated a warning that Iran and Hezbollah should not intervene in the conflict, saying this would be a “severe mistake”.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was expected to return to the region in an attempt to secure the release of the German hostages being held by Hamas, promising to speak to "everyone who has channels to Hamas".

She said innocent people in Gaza faced a "catastrophic humanitarian situation" and an urgent need for aid such as food, water and medicine.

Updated: October 19, 2023, 11:10 AM