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London march ends in embassy standoff

LONDON (JTA) — A march through central London by more than 10,000 people protesting Israel’s military action in Gaza ended in a standoff at the Israeli Embassy.

Police prevented the demonstrators — mostly Muslims, but also a small Jewish group — from nearing the embassy compound. The standoff in front of the embassy lasted several hours. Some demonstrators burnt placards; police made 15 arrests.

The demonstrators had gathered at Trafalgar Square to hear fiery speeches before moving to the site of the embassy in West London.

Several Muslim and pro-Palestinian organizations organized the rally. Smaller protests were held throughout the United Kingdom.

Protesters attempted to leave old shoes — reminiscent of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush at a news conference in Baghdad — at a gate to the Prime Minister’s office at 10 Downing Street. When police prevented them from getting close to the gate, some threw the shoes at police officers.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Saturday for "Gazan militants to cease all rocket attacks on Israel immediately " and asked Israel to “meet its humanitarian obligations." In a statement issued after he spoke to his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert, Brown said, “I am deeply concerned by continuing missile strikes from Gaza on Israel and by Israel’s response."

Brown noted that the Quartet, the diplomatic grouping of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, on Dec. 15 had said that "peaceful means are the only way of reaching a lasting solution to the situation in Gaza.”

The outgoing president of the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, condemned Israel’s action just a day before he left for a visit to Israel, while the current E.U. presidency, the government of the Czech Republic, said Israel’s action was a defensive, not offensive action. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is part of the E.U. delegation heading to Israel led by Sarkozy.

At a Jan. 2 news conference announcing the demonstration, singer Annie Lennox, who is married to an Israeli, and activist and former model Bianca Jagger called on  Israel and Hamas to agree to a new cease-fire. A six-month cease-fire brokered by Egypt ended last month, prompting Hamas to fire hundreds of rockets at southern Israel.

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