ens of thousands of people gathered for pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the UK amid growing international concern over the situation in Israel and Gaza.
Marchers filled the streets of central London on Saturday as thousands also gathered in Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh and other parts of the UK.
Demonstrators carried flags and flares and chanted pro-Palestinian slogans as marchers heard calls for world leaders to condemn Israel’s actions.
It comes as thousands of Palestinians attempted a mass exodus from northern Gaza after Israel’s military told them to evacuate before an expected ground invasion.
The UN, human rights groups and others have been among those expressing deep concern about the impact of Israeli action on civilians as the death toll continues to rise amid airstrikes and a siege on the territory.
The renewed violence came after an attack last week by Palestinian militant group Hamas left hundreds of Israeli civilians and soldiers dead.
More than 1,000 officers were deployed by the Metropolitan Police before Saturday’s demonstration in the capital, with police saying in advance that anyone showing support for Hamas may face arrest.
Certain areas of London are covered by a Section 60AA power, which requires a person to remove items that might be used to conceal their identity, such as masks, until 10pm.
Section 12 of the Public Order Act covered the route of the demonstration, which finished in Whitehall mid-afternoon.
As marchers arrived in the thoroughfare and made their way to a stage outside Downing Street, chants of “Rishi Sunak, shame on you” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” rang out among the crowd.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman earlier this week urged police chiefs to consider whether that pro-Palestine slogan could amount to an offence, while also suggesting that waving Palestinian flags could in some contexts be seen as illegitimate.
Jeremy Corbyn and the head of the Palestinian mission in London Husam Zomlot were among those addressing the crowd, with the former Labour leader urging politicians to condemn Israeli actions in Gaza.
He said: “As we wave the Palestinian flag, let’s hear it for the people of the West Bank, for the people of Gaza, for the people of the refugee camps, and say very bluntly to our political leaders in this country: ‘Do not condone war crimes, do not condone the starvation and the denial of medicine to desperate people in Gaza or anywhere else.’
“If you believe in international law, if you believe in human rights, then you must condemn what is happening now in Gaza by the Israeli army.”
A minute’s silence was observed for those killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
At least two people are believed to have been arrested or detained by officers as parts of the crowd continued to demonstrate.
Before the demonstration, the BBC’s headquarters in London was daubed in red paint as pro-Palestinian group of Palestine Action accused the broadcaster of having “blood on its hands” over its coverage.
The BBC has also faced criticism in recent days from senior ministers for maintaining its editorial stance not to describe Hamas militants as terrorists.
In Edinburgh, thousands of people staged an impromptu march to the Scottish Parliament, marching from The Mound, where the protest was held, and down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile before taking the knee in solidarity with Palestinians caught up in the conflict.
The UK Government has been steadfast in its support of Israel, with ministers calling on police to use the “full force of the law” against shows of support for Hamas or bids to intimidate the UK’s Jewish community.
Amid concerns about the scale of the Israeli response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Friday that the country has “every right to defend itself” from Hamas attacks but stressed that civilian safety must be “paramount in our minds”.
But 12 aid agencies, including Oxfam, Action Against Hunger and Action Aid, called on Mr Sunak and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to use the UK’s influence to help bring an end to the violence.
It comes as the Foreign Office confirmed two charter flights have left Israel carrying Britons.
One flight was a commercial charter flight, while an RAF A400M transport plane was also used.
Three Britons are confirmed to have died during last weekend’s attack on Israel but reports have suggested at least 17 could be among the casualties.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, the Foreign Secretary blamed Hamas squarely for the deaths of civilians.
“Hamas is the greatest threat to the Palestinian people. They hide in hospitals and schools, using woman and children as human shields.
“The death of any civilian is a tragedy. Palestinian or Israeli – Hamas is the cause of this loss.”