Hundreds of anti-Israel protesters were heckled by a large contingent of Israel supporters as they marched through the streets of central London on Sunday for the annual Iran-initiated Al Quds Day march.
Later, the crowds grew as the pro-Palestinian group left their position in front of Saudi Arabia’s embassy and began marching toward No 10 Downing St, the office and home of the British prime minister.
Unlike in previous years, around 200 people waving Palestinian flags and holding signs with anti-Israel slogans were almost equally matched to a crowd of opponents who gathered nearby behind a banner that read ‘free Gaza from Hamas,’ according to witnesses.
The two sides were separated by a hefty police presence. A third group consisting of supporters of the anti-Islam and anti-immigration English Defence League and allied groups had also joined the fray, but were cordoned off by police.
As the group wove toward Downing St, they were briefly blocked by a group of counter-protesters who were waving Israeli flags and chanted that their opponents were “terrorist scum.” They moved on at the request of police.
The march that began after 3pm local time follows similar marches in Germany, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere — though not all of the marches have been held on the same day.
Al Quds Day is an annual event billed as a demonstration in support of the Palestinian people and against the existence of Israel held around the world during the period of Ramadan. It began in 1979 when the Islamic Republic of Iran marked the day to express support for Palestinians and call for Israel’s demise.
The London protest, instead of targeting an Israeli institution, will be held outside the Saudi embassy. Saudi Arabia is Iran’s chief rival in the Middle East and is increasingly seen as cozying up to Israel.
The group organizing the counter-demonstrations — flying a festoon of Israeli flags — had warned far-right protesters against joining their rally, which comes a day after clashes erupted during a demonstration against the jailing of far-right icon Tommy Robsinson.
“Whilst we are proud to stand against this hate, we are acutely aware that elements of the far-right and neo-Nazi groups have been encouraging their members and supporters to also rally against the Al-Quds Day march,” the federation said in a statement, according to the London-based Jewish News.
The London rally comes amid heightened scrutiny of Israel over the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border since March 30, with violence peaking on May 14 as outrage climaxed over the United States’ opening of its controversial embassy in Jerusalem.
In calling for Al Quds Day rallies to be held around the world, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said this year’s events were “special” because of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and 2018 being “the 70th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian land” — a reference to Israel’s War of Independence.