SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied in Australia against Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza.
In Melbourne, about 2,000 anti-Israel protesters ground the city to a standstill Sunday as they marched from the State Library to Federation Square waving placards bearing slogans such as “Stop the Holocaust in Gaza” and “End the siege.”
In Sydney, several streets in the central business district were blocked off as about 3,000 pro-Palestinian protesters marched to Town Hall carrying coffins draped in the Palestinian flag.
Speakers at both rallies blasted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labor government for failing to condemn Israel’s military invasion of Gaza, which began Saturday night. The Israelis have hit the Hamas-controlled strip with airstrikes for a week.
Also Sunday, about 500 pro-Israel supporters gathered on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne, chanting “no more terror” and “free Gaza of Hamas.” Among the speakers at the rally was Michael Danby, a Jewish member of Parliament in the Labor government.
“How would we react when faced by Islamist fanatics who would kill Australians in Bali, murder our tourists in Mumbai and do what they are doing to the Israelis on the edge of Gaza?” Danby asked.
More than 475 Palestinians have died in the conflict, with more than 2,000 injured, according to Palestinian sources. Five Israelis have been killed since the fighting began Dec. 27.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, a weekly columnist for the New Zealand Herald accused Israel of ordering its soldiers to “slaughter and mutilate hundreds of citizens trapped on the Gaza Strip.”
Matt McCarten in Sunday’s edition wrote, “The Nazis used a similar policy during World War II in their occupied territories. The Israelis are getting the same results the Nazis got — their victims increase their hatred and determination to seek revenge.”