University Gaza protests a hallmark of American democracy, says Blinken

Secretary of State strays from his normal refusal to discuss US domestic affairs and acknowledges 'passionate feelings' about the conflict

Speaking in Beijing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he 'very much understands' strong feelings about the war in Gaza. Reuters
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday called pro-Palestine student protests that have rocked university campuses across the US a “hallmark of our democracy”.

While wrapping up a three-day trip to China, Mr Blinken strayed from his normal refusal to discuss domestic affairs and acknowledged the “passionate feelings” among young people that the Israel-Gaza war has created.

“People have strong, passionate feelings about what's happening in Gaza, and in the Middle East, that I very much understand,” he told reporters.

“And when we see the horrific human suffering and the death of children, women and men who are caught in this crossfire of Hamas’s making, it's gut wrenching.”

Mr Blinken said the protests are something that ultimately show the “strength” of the US democracy.

The protest movement, which started at Columbia University in New York more than a week ago, has spread across the US, with demonstrations in support of Palestine and encampments popping up at several institutions, including at George Washington University in the US capital.

University administrators have struggled with the protests and have at times called in local police, who have conducted mass arrests in some places.

Demonstrators are calling for a ceasefire and for their universities to divest from companies with ties to Israel.

The Israel-Gaza war began when Hamas militants attacked communities in southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and abducting 240.

Israel has responded with a seven-month onslaught on the densely populated enclave.

More than 34,300 people have been killed in Gaza, making it by far the deadliest iteration of the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Updated: April 26, 2024, 3:12 PM