Pro-Palestine protesters to take to UK streets as Israel steps up Gaza offensive

Pro-Palestine protesters to take to UK streets as Israel steps up Gaza offensive

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters are expected to take to the streets of Britain on Saturday as Israel steps up its offensive on Gaza.

Police expect about 100,000 people to join a demonstration in London demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, with other rallies organised elsewhere in the UK – including in Manchester and Glasgow.

It comes as Israel knocked out communications in the Gaza Strip in intensified attacks, largely cutting off the 2.3 million population from contact with each other and the outside world.

The United Nations said the move would prevent aid from reaching Palestinians trapped inside the bombarded territory, with Tel Aviv continuing to fire air strikes on the 25-mile stretch.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas fighters who it claims are operating from among civilians, with the UK Government calculating that about 200 British nationals remain in Gaza.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s First Minister, said he is praying his family survive a night of heavy bombardment as they mark the end of a third week stuck in a warzone.

The SNP leader revealed via social media that he has been unable to contact his wife’s mother and her husband after communications were cut off.

Elizabeth El-Nakla and her husband Maged travelled to the region before the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, in which Palestinian militants killed 1,400 people, and have been trapped since Tel Aviv’s subsequent retaliation.

The First Minister wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “How many more children have to die before the world says enough?”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recognised that Israel is “expanding their military campaign against Hamas”.

He said the UK’s “top priority remains the safety of British nationals in Gaza and the region”.

“We support Israel’s right to self defence, in line with IHL (international humanitarian law), and continue to push for the protection of Palestinian civilians,” Mr Cleverly tweeted.

The reverberations of the conflict continue to be felt in the UK, with police braced for a fresh wave of protests.

The Metropolitan Police said officers are expected to intervene if protesters use the word “jihad” in chants in London over the weekend.

A video emerged of a pro-Palestinian protester chanting “jihad” at one event last week, but officers had said no offences were identified in the footage from the demonstration.

Ahead of the weekend, Kyle Gordon, who is leading the force’s command team, told a press briefing: “If somebody is calling for jihad specifically against Israel the officers will intervene, gather the information, report it back into us and we’ll be working with colleagues (from counter-terrorism) in relation to what the best course of action is.”

It comes after Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley differed with ministers this week over how to police pro-Palestine protesters using the phrase.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak signalled that police are unlikely to be given more powers to address chants deemed to be extremist after the comments at last Saturday’s rally.

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Explosions caused by Israeli airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday (Abed Khaled/AP)

That is despite suggestions from Sir Mark that laws may need to be redrawn following concerns about gaps in current anti-extremism legislation.

Scotland Yard has pointed out that jihad has “a number of meanings”.

Max Hill, the outgoing director of public prosecutions, has said that calling for jihad is not automatically a criminal offence.

The head of the Crown Prosecution Service told The Daily Telegraph: “In any case arising from the current protests, there needs to be a very careful consideration of the actual circumstances in which something is said, or a flag is waved or actions are taken.”

As the Palestinian death toll mounts, with the Hamas-controlled Gazan health ministry saying more than 7,000 people have died, calls for a ceasefire are growing among UK politicians.

Downing Street has insisted that such a move would “only benefit Hamas” and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has joined the Government in supporting “humanitarian pauses”.

The issue is causing splits in the Labour Party, with Imran Hussain, shadow minister for the New Deal For Working People and MP for Bradford East, breaking ranks to demand a ceasefire.

“Two million people in Gaza have been plunged into darkness,” he tweeted.

“First it was food, water, power and medicine. Now it’s a communications and internet blackout.

“It’s impossible to imagine the horror that families in Gaza are facing right now and we need a ceasefire now.”

It is unclear if Mr Hussain will be able to stay in his shadow ministerial post, having deviated from Labour’s official position.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar announced on Friday that they were joining the call for a ceasefire – but Sir Keir’s team made it clear the party position had not changed.

Pro-Palestinian supporters demonstrated on Friday outside the office of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party, an area represented by another shadow minister, Rushanara Ali, in protest at Labour’s stance.