Text size

Thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv for and against Israel's eight-day-old military campaign in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, with police forces struggling to separate the opposing camps.

No clashes have been reported.

"Barak, Barak, Defense Minister, how many children have you murdered today?" yelled out protesters while waving Palestinians flags. "Stop the bombing, stop the killing," others called out at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.

On the other side of the square, the supporters of the Gaza raids called out "Let the IDF win and bring back Shalit," referring to Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped by Gaza militants in 2006.

"We came to condemn in the strongest possible way what is being done in Gaza," said Ramat Gan man Latif Sadri, who protested against the offensive. "The killing of innocent people and imposing a financial siege will not bring about an end to the rocket fire," he said, referring to the Palestinian rockets being fired into southern Israel over the last eight years.

"I came here after I heard that it was authorized to wave Palestinian flags," said Etti Ben Hur from Yahud, who came out in support of the military campaign. "I'm not a right winger, but we have to support our troops."

Meanwhile Saturday, thousands of demonstrators held a rally in the Israeli Arab Galilee village of Sakhnin, protesting against Israel's military operations.

The protest was organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and was one of the largest held by the Israeli Arab community since October 2000.

Police set up roadblocks at the entrance to the city and so far there have been no reports of unrest.

The police had earlier decided to allow the protesters to carry Palestinian flags and black flags, but not flags representing Arab Israeli political parties, so as to avoid political scuffles.

The Chairman of the Balad Party, MK Jamal Zahalka, said at the rally that there is a need to "try Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi in an international war crimes tribunal for their role in the killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip."

Zahalka also vowed that Balad would use their power in the Knesset to ensure that Livni and Barak "don't return to power."

Hadash Chair Mohammed Barakeh said the demonstration was "another important step that we are proud of, which represents an advanced stage in the fight waged by the Arab population and the forces of peace against the massacre of the people of Gaza. This demonstration is the answer to all those who have been gambling on the motivation of Israel's Arab population to voice a strong stance against the mentality of occupation and racism."

"We are her, and we will always be here," he continued. "Until this kind of mentality and those who implement it are erased from history."