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British Jews rally for peace in Middle East

Thousands of British Jews rallied in London to condemn the Islamist Hamas movement and call for peace in both Israel and the Gaza Strip.

world Updated: Jan 11, 2009 21:51 IST

Thousands of British Jews rallied in London on Sunday to condemn the Islamist Hamas movement and call for peace in both Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Waving Israeli and British flags and carrying placards reading "End Hamas terror! Peace for the people of Israel and Gaza", demonstrators prayed for peace as speakers demanded Hamas stop firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and lawmakers addressed the demonstrators, who chanted: "Yes to peace".

Police estimated the crowd at 4,000, but organisers claimed there was a surprisingly large turnout of around 20,000 people.

"We are here because we want want peace and we want life, not only for the people of Israel but also for the people of Gaza," Grunwald told the crowd.

He urged attendees to make donations via text message to help hospitals caring for civilian victims in Gaza and Israel.

Sacks said: "All it took to avoid this suffering was for Hamas to stop firing rockets on Israeli citizens.

"Let a voice go out today from here in Trafalgar Square... we want peace.

"We say to those who criticise Israel: you want Palestinian children to grow up with hope; so do we," added Sacks. "We care for life. This is why we say to Hamas: stop killing the Palestinian future."

The crowd sang a prayer for peace in Israel and across the world.

A group of counter-demonstrators lining the side of the square chanted throughout the rally, waving placards reading "We are all Hamas. Boycott Israel", "Israeli terrorist cowards" and "End the siege -- talk to Hamas".

Two people were arrested for public order offences, police said.

On Saturday, a pro-Palestinian rally turned ugly as around 200 angry demonstrators, many with their faces masked, hurled sticks and stones at riot police protecting the Israeli embassy. Shop fronts were trashed and police made 24 arrests.

The clashes came after 15,000 to 20,000 people, according to police, rallied in Hyde Park and marched towards the embassy.

"Compare the messages that come from those protests to the messages that have come from us today. There's no comparison," Grunwald told AFP.

"Our message is clear and it's positive: we believe in life, we believe in peace.

"We are not going to be intimidated off the streets of London from getting this message across.

"A way has to be found for the world to prevent Hamas from having the stranglehold that it does on the lives of the people of Gaza.

"Hamas is the key to this, Hamas has to be dealt with and then, please God, steps to peace can be picked up once again.

"The turnout shows the strength of feeling. This wasn't just the Jewish community. There are thousands of people here from other communities who feel the same way."

The hour-long rally ended with the singing of the British and Israeli national anthems.

A similar, 2,000-strong rally was held in Manchester, northwest England.