Thousands of Australians joined pro-Palestinian rallies on Sunday, despite police threats to curb them amid tension after the bloody Hamas incursion into Israel eight days ago.
Nations across the developed world are clamping down on such protests out of concern the conflict could trigger violence at home, with France banning them for fear they could disturb public order.
Protesters waved Palestine flags and chanted “Free, free Palestine” as hundreds of police patrolled the area around one of the largest rallies in Sydney, capital of Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales.
A police helicopter circled low over the event in the city’s Hyde Park. About 5,000 people attended, said the organisers, the Palestine Action Group, while a Reuters witness put the number at about 2,000.
The rally was “peaceful so far”, said a group spokesperson, Amal Naser, adding that police had not deployed special powers to stop and search protesters, a move they had considered for the first time in almost two decades.
Ayah, a Palestinian living in Sydney, said she was at the rally to “be peaceful, to support my country, nothing to do with burning flags”.
Another protester, Mustafa, whose father left Gaza in 1976, attended with his three children.
“We are not against Jewish people,” he said. “They have been in Palestine for a long time, side by side with the Muslims and the Christians, we are all Palestinians. We are against the Zionists.”
Rally organisers said they planned to march through central Sydney next weekend.
Thousands also protested at pro-Palestine rallies in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, and in the Victorian state capital of Melbourne, said the Guardian Australia news site.
An official of a Jewish group, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, condemned the rallies taking place “just days” after the attack on Israel.
In a statement, Alex Ryvchin, co-chief executive of the council, said some protesters were “chanting in euphemisms calling for Israel’s destruction”.
Sydney police arrested three men on Friday for delivering Nazi salutes outside the Jewish Museum of Australia, media said. Australia’s intelligence chief has urged people to tone down rhetoric that could inflame tension.