Video: Thousands brave cold to denounce Israeli offensive in Gaza, Canada’s inaction

MONTREAL – Thousands of placard-toting, flag-waving protesters spilled into the streets of Montreal on Sunday, calling on the Canadian government to apply pressure on Israel to stop its military offensive in Gaza.

The boisterous-but-peaceful group made up adults and children shouted slogans such as “Israel terrorist” and “Free Palestine” as they snaked through the downtown core in a bone-chilling cold.

Gaza demo Montreal

Gaza demo Montreal

The Montreal march was the latest in a series of events this weekend across Canada denouncing the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Another event on Sunday attracted an estimated 300 people in Edmonton and similar protests were held Saturday in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto.

But members of the Quebec-Israel Committee who observed the rally said they were troubled by chants in Arabic calling for death to Jews and the alleged burning of an Israeli flag in front of the consulate.

“The violent and anti-Semitic rhetoric of numerous protesters is an echo of radical Islamic discourse that holds sway in the Middle East, but has no place in Quebec,” Luciano Del Negro, director general of the committee, said in a statement.

Even as Israel’s troops and military machinery continued their push into Gaza, protesters continued to press for the Canadian government to do more.

“There is a massacre going on Gaza right now,” said protester Gerbe Rahal.

“I don’t have any family in Gaza but you don’t need to have family there to know what’s going on there is inhuman and that it can’t continue that way.”

An imposing number of demonstrators moved from a public square on the western tip of Montreal’s downtown core to the Israeli consulate, housed in an office tower just a stone’s throw away.

Under the watchful of eye of a Montreal police escort and more officers guarding the door to the consulate, protesters roared before moving on along busy Ste. Catherine Street.

Fabienne Presentey, a protester with Independent Jewish Voices, opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, said that military might will do little to make Israelis more secure.

“A protest – one person’s voice – everything is necessary when there is an injustice. All voices that can be raised against this injustice must be,” she said.

Israel has said it is acting in self-defence in response to continuous firing of rockets by the Hamas militant group from Gaza into nearby Jewish towns.

More than 500 Palestinians and a handful of Israelis have died since the battles began last weekend.

The Israeli air strikes have badly damaged Gaza’s infrastructure, knocking out power and water in many areas and raising fears of humanitarian disaster as the Israeli ground incursion started Saturday.

Protest organizers called on the Canadian government to press Israel for a ceasefire and immediate sanctions and boycotts against that country.

Laith Marouf, chapter co-ordinator at Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights’ Montreal chapter, also said organizers wanted borders to Egypt opened to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza and to let residents caught in the crossfire the chance to get out.

“On a personal level, people are worried about their families, but secondly people are very disappointed at the Canadian government and their callous position on war crimes that Israel is committing,” Marouf said, adding the Canadian government’s position didn’t necessarily come as a surprise.

“But that doesn’t mean that we do not condemn it and we will put the pressure on this (Canadian) government as much as we can to abide by international law.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon issued a statement Sunday saying that “Canada is deeply concerned about the increase in hostilities between Israel and Hamas.”

Cannon called for renewed international diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire, starting with a halt to rocket attacks on Israel the statement says are the cause of the crisis.

It adds the region must have access to food, fuel and medical supplies.

In Edmonton, protesters staged a boisterous rally in front of city hall, denouncing the war in Gaza as a “holocaust” against the Palestinians.

The protesters, many wearing colourful head scarves, waved placards decrying the war and shouted for peace as they marched around the square, some carrying the Palestinian flag.

Protester Ahmad Assaf said the world must denounce what he describes as Israeli aggression and the hypocrisy of Western nations that are arming Israel.

“They have been killing innocent people for 60 years,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

Alaa Kabri, a volunteer with the Canada-Palestine Cultural Association, says the rally was organized by Edmonton’s Islamic community to take a stand against oppression.

“While the world was looking the other way over New Years, there was a massacre taking place in Gaza and it’s all in the name of self defence,” he said.

“Forty-two of the children are dead and I don’t consider killing children a matter of self defence.”

(With files from Jim MacDonald in Edmonton)

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