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Balkans and Central Europe See Rival Pro-israel and Pro-palestinian Protests

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Balkan and Central European countries saw protests in support of both Israel and Palestine over the recent conflict between Hamas militants in Gaza and the Israeli military. Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of mosques in Turkey on Friday after prayers.

“Muslims do not sleep, take care of your brothers,” they chanted at the main event in Istanbul at the square of Beyazit Mosque.

The event was organised by Islamist NGOs which urged Muslim countries to help Palestinians and had a special message for the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is trying to mediate between the two sides. “Mehmetcik [a name for Turkish soldiers] to Gaza!” they chanted.

In addition to many gatherings across Turkey, Islamist parties will hold a big rally on Sunday in Istanbul in support of Palestine.

After Hamas militants launched a surprise massive attack against Israel, killing over a thousand people, Israel’s government has declared “war”. Israel’s military struggled for days to crush Palestinian fighters still embedded in southern towns and intensified their bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

As the Israeli military prepare for a ground invasion, Israeli fighter jets have pounded Gaza, resulting in a death toll of around 3,000, with thousands more wounded on both sides.

Political parties, organisations of the extra-parliamentary Left, Palestinians living in Greece and others called for a gathering of solidarity with the Palestinian people at 6pm on Friday in Athens.

The protest will end at the Israeli embassy. In their joint call, the 15 organisations stated: “There is no peace without justice! Solidarity to Palestine. No cooperation with the terrorist state of Israel.”

The Greek news agency reported that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday participated in an emergency teleconference of leaders of the centre-right European People’s Party, EPP, to discuss the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the situation in the Gaza Strip.

“According to sources, Mitsotakis repeated his support for Israel and its right to self-defence. He also noted that the rules of engagement of an organised state can not be equated with those of a terrorist organisation and underlined the need to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The Greek premier stressed that Europe must speak with a single voice on a crucial issue of regional but also European security,” it reported.

In Poland, people from different faiths prayed for peace together. The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, led joint prayers on Friday in Warsaw together with Catholic priests and representatives of the Muslim community in Poland, asking people to concentrate on peace as a way forward.

“We are here for only one thing, for peace. This initiative of the Polish Chief Rabbi, inviting all of us to pray together, is welcomed,” Mustafa Aydogdu, a local Muslim from the Dialogue Institute NGO in Warsaw, told BIRN.=

Several hundred people gathered in Sarajevo, Bosnia, driving through the streets to voice their support for the Palestinian people on Thursday evening.

The protest drive, organised by an informal group “Friends of the State of Palestine”, condemned the violence against, and killings of, civilians.

Earlier this week, the Palestinian flag was erected on the viewpoint over the southern Bosnian city of Mostar, while one was also seen hanging on the iconic Ottoman-era Old Bridge.

The escalation of the war in Israel and Gaza has again fuelled divisions among Bosnian politicians. While all of them have condemned violence, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik condemned only the Hamas attack on Israel.

In Muslim-dominated Kosovo, on the other hand, politicians and also citizens clearly sided with Israel. On Thursday evening, a group from the Jewish community in Kosovo lit candles for the victims in Israel as a result of the attack by Hamas.

US Ambassador Jeffrey Hovenier joined the vigil. “The US unequivocally condemns these heinous attacks. There is never any justification for terrorism. We stand in solidarity with the people of Israel,” he wrote on Twitter.

Kosovo PM Albin Kurti voiced the country’s support for Israel, writing on Twitter: “Very concerned about the crimes against civilians & the rising death toll following the Hamas attacks in Israel. I stand with our allies, urging an immediate halt to these acts, supporting Israel’s right to self-defense against terrorism, & demanding the immediate release of hostages.”

Romania took a similar stance. A few hundred people gathered on Thursday in Izvor Park in the centre of Bucharest, to show solidarity with Israel. Among them were the Health Minister, Alexandru Rafila, and the former Defence Minister, Vasile Dincu, who each gave a speech.

People attending the rally chanted “Am Israel Chai” in front of parliament, or, “Jewish people live!”. The choir from the national opera in Bucharest sang the anthems of Israel and Romania and at the end, people shouted: “Solidarity!”.

In Serbia, the Israeli-Hamas conflict did not constitute a major topic among Serbian politicians or in society. However, in the mainly Muslim Sandzak area of Serbia’s southwest, it is announced that citizens in Novi Pazar would organise a protest on Saturday called “Stop War in Palestine”.

Albania, Montenegro and Croatia did not hold any events for either Israel or Palestine. Ttheir governments have all sided with Israel.

Israel has the right to self-defence but not to revenge and massacres, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said on Thursday.

“I condemned the murders [perpetrated by Hamas], I even expressed disgust and abhorrence. The right to self-defence, which Israel absolutely has, does not include the right to revenge and massacre civilians. Even if you were my brother, I would treat you according to those criteria.” Milanovic told reporters.

In North Macedonia, different political views have resulted in some disciplinary actions. The Interior Ministry said it would launch disciplinary measures against a police officer who is part of the police’s VIP protection team after the former Interior Minister, Nake Culev, earlier this week pointed out that he has been posting comments in support of Hamas on his Facebook profile. It is currently taken down.

In Hungary, the government banned all pro-Palestinian events following the example of some Western capitals. It banned a solidarity demonstration for Palestinians in Gaza, which was organised in a Facebook campaign for Friday afternoon.

PM Viktor Orban’s press secretary confirmed that the Prime Minister himself decided to forbid the protest as soon as he was informed about the preparations. Police said the demonstration would seriously endanger public order.

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