One thousand protest against Israel in London

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More than a thousand pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in London Monday to denounce Israel's storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla which left at least nine people dead.

Waving Palestinian flags and placards saying "Disarm Israel" and accusing Israel of "war crimes", the protesters had earlier marched through the capital and stopped outside the British prime minister's Downing Street residence.

The demonstrators, who were noisy but peaceful, then marched across London to gather near the Israeli embassy which stands in a road blocked off by security gates which were guarded by hundreds of police.

Maha Rahwanji, 35, the daughter of Palestinian exiles who lives in London, wept as she spoke about the interception of an aid ship by Israeli commandos.

"Today marks the anniversary of my father's death. Instead of being at a memorial service, after he died 20 years ago for the cause, instead of being at his graveside to remember him, I am mourning the loss of another 20 people," she said.

"What has happened to the flotilla is just heartbreaking."

British comedian and presenter Alexei Sayle, who joined the protest, told the BBC: "If you are a democratic nation and people are doing something that you don't want them to do like delivering aid, you have to let them, because you are democratic.

"We have just blocked Whitehall and the British police allowed us to do that because this is a democratic nation.

"Israel is not a democratic nation, it is an apartheid state and it has to be made a pariah.

"Because until that point it will continue to carry out more and increasing atrocities."

Also at the demonstration was Kate Hudson, the chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

"We have close friends on the boat on which people were killed and we are here waiting for news," she said.

"We are trying to get through to them but we are not getting any answers."

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed "regret" over the loss of life, but said Israeli troops acted to "defend their lives."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague deplored the loss of life and urged the Jewish state to lift the "unacceptable and counter-productive" restrictions on aid going into the Palestinian territory.

© 2010 AFP

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