Pro-Israeli demo draws thousands in Paris
The demonstrators waving Israeli flags and singing Hebrew hymns say Israel is simply fighting for its freedom and has no desire to destroy another people.PARIS – Several thousand demonstrators waved Israeli flags and sang Hebrew hymns in Paris Sunday to show support for Israel in its military offensive in Gaza, a day after a huge pro-Palestinian rally.
Warmly dressed to brave seasonably cold weather, about 12,000 demonstrators gathered on a street not far from the Israeli embassy, according to organisers, the CRIF, an umbrella group of French Jewish organisations.
Police said 4,000 people turned up for the demonstration held on a side street after city authorities barred them from massing directly in front of the embassy.
On Saturday, more than 20,000 people marched to show support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and to condemn Israel's offensive aimed at halting rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled territory.
"Israel is simply fighting for its freedom and for the survival of its people," France's chief rabbi Gilles Bernheim told the crowd. "There is no desire to destroy another people."
Bernheim said it was important for French Jews and Muslims to "maintain a relationship of trust" and expressed concern for the fate of French-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in 2006 by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
France is home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities and Middle East violence has in the past stoked tensions in ethnically-mixed neighbourhoods.
Pro-Palestinian protesters on Saturday burned Israeli flags, torched several cars and smashed windows of shops along the chic Hausmann Boulevard near the Paris Opera house.
French police detained 20 people and 10 officers were slightly injured during clashes in Paris.
Protests were held in cities across Europe on Saturday to call for an immediate halt to the violence as Israeli troops launched a ground offensive after a week of air strikes.
At least 500 Palestinians have died in the nine-day offensive and more than 2,400 wounded, according to medics in Gaza.
Israel began its blitz on Gaza on 27 December to retaliate against rocket attacks by Hamas, the Palestinian group that seized power in the territory in June 2007.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to travel to Israel on Monday as part of a four-nation Middle East tour to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.
[AFP / Expatica]