LONDON (AP) — Thousands of people joined vigils in Berlin and London on Sunday to oppose antisemitism and support Israel, while in Paris and other cities, thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators demanded a cease-fire and relief for people in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Some of those who gathered in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate carried Israeli flags or posters with photos of some of the more than 200 people seized by Hamas as hostages during the militants’ deadly Oct. 7 incursion into Israel.
“It is unbearable that Jews are living in fear again today — in our country of all places,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the crowd, estimated at 20,000 by organizers and 10,000 by police. “Every single attack on Jews, on Jewish institutions is a disgrace for Germany. Every single attack fills me with shame and anger.”
Earlier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz inaugurated a new synagogue in the eastern city of Dessau and said he was “outraged” by the upsurge in antisemitism since the conflict began.
Several buildings in Berlin where Jews live had the star of David painted on doors and walls, and assailants threw two Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in Berlin last week.
“Here in Germany, of all places,” Scholz said, vowing that “our ‘never again’ must be unbreakable.”
At a vigil attended by thousands in London’s Trafalgar Square, participants held posters bearing the images of hostages and the missing. They chanted “bring them home,” falling silent as the names of the hostages were read out.
Speakers from both the U.K.’s governing Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party addressed the crowd. Communities Secretary Michael Gove said Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack was an act of “unparalleled evil and barbarism.”
“We must stand together against it. We must stand for life. We must bring the hostages home,” he said.
Hundreds of people rallied outside the United Nations’ offices in Geneva to demand the hostages’ release. Waving mostly Israeli, but also Swiss and German flags, the demonstrators held aloft signs that read “Children aren’t bargaining chips” or T-shirts with the words #SetThemFree.
A day earlier, about 4,500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched in the Swiss city of Lausanne, police said.
The war has raised tensions worldwide, leaving Jewish and Muslim communities feeling vulnerable. London’s Metropolitan Police force says it has seen a 13-fold upsurge in reports of antisemitic offenses in October compared to last year. Reports of anti-Muslim crimes have more than doubled.
Sunday’s rallies came a day after tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators – 100,000 by police estimates – marched through the British capital to demand Israel stop its bombardment of Gaza, launched in response to Hamas’ brutal incursion.
Authorities in Gaza say more than 4,600 people have been killed in the territory since the latest war began. More than 1,400 people have been killed in Israel, majority of them civilians slain in the Oct. 7 attack.
Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza ahead of an expected ground offensive. United Nations officials were pressing for more humanitarian aid to get into the besieged strip, after 20 trucks were allowed Saturday to enter Gaza across the southern Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
In France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Paris to demand Israel stop its strikes on Gaza. Police estimated 15,000 people took part.
Some waved red, green and black Palestinian flags and clambered onto the Republique plaza’s central statue. A banner read “Stop the massacre in Gaza. France must call for an immediate cease-fire.”
Organizers — including Palestinian and Muslim groups, peace associations, workers’ and students’ unions and leftist political parties — condemned Hamas’ attack on civilians, urged the militant group to release all hostages and called for an end to Israel’s assault.
Sarah Alaoui, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent, said she came to “support the Palestinian people who have suffered too much for too long.”
“Humanitarian aid is not enough. Palestinians need to be able to live a decent life and have their own state,” she said.
Nicole Pomier, a 49-year-old Parisian and longtime activist, said she was relieved the protest had not been banned by authorities.
“We want to be able to support the Palestinian people without risking being arrested by the police,” she said.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had ordered all pro-Palestinian demonstrations banned, before authorities ruled permission for protests should be decided locally on a case-by-case basis.
Jewish groups planned a gathering in Paris later Sunday to call for the release of Hamas’ hostages.
A crowd estimated at 12,000 by police gathered outside European Union institutions in Brussels for a rally organized by groups including trade unions, Christian organizations and Arab solidarity movements.
Several thousand people took to the streets in Sarajevo, with some comparing the situation in Gaza with the suffering of Bosniaks, who are mainly Muslims, during the country’s 1992-95 war.
“What is happening in Gaza is simply human disaster. Collective punishment. War crimes. These things have to be named by their rightful name,” said Nabil Naser, a Palestinian doctor who worked in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.
Hundreds also rallied in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and in Podgorica, the capital of neighboring Montenegro.
More than 3,000 people attended a “Freedom for Palestine” rally on Sunday at a square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Malaysia is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, and has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Muslims in the country have staged weekly rallies after Friday prayers outside the American Embassy, slamming the U.S. for its support of Israel.
Retiree Munir Izwan urged neighbors of the Palestinians to step up efforts to help.
“Even in Islamic teachings, the closest neighbors should help the most in making peace between the two parties. But from what I see, the neighboring countries of Palestine, they are only talking but no actions,” Munir said.
Lawless reported from London. Associated Press writers Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia contributed to this report.