Pro-Palestinian groups gathered in cities across Canada on Saturday amid escalating unrest in the Middle East, with a pro-Israel virtual event scheduled for Sunday.
More than a dozen police officers separated pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters outside the Manitoba provincial legislature in Winnipeg, reports CBC.
Despite the tensions between the parties, Winnipeg police said no arrests had been made as of Saturday afternoon in connection with the rallies.
Idris Elbakri, a Palestinian-Canadian from Jerusalem who spoke at the protest, urged the federal government to "take a much more balanced, principled approach" to the region's ongoing crisis. "Unfortunately, I don't believe that is the case right now," he said.
Thousands of people gathered in Nathan Phillips Square near city hall in Toronto to protest the violence against Palestinians in Gaza. The demonstration drew between 2,500 and 5,000 people, according to Toronto police.
"I have family back in Gaza and I feel so bad. I speak with them like every minute just to make sure that they are still fine and they're still alive," said Wajeeha Barakat, who attended with her son to show solidarity with her family.
Among the myriad of Palestinian flags were dozens of Israeli flags flown by counter-demonstrators in the square. Police appeared to set up a barrier to separate opposing protesters.
'I'm on edge all the time'
In Ottawa, organisations representing the city's Palestinian community rallied outside the Human Rights Monument to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza and other Palestinian territories. Police estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended.
"It's devastating to see the impact that it has on my family," Janan Arafa, one of the organizers, told CBC's Krystalle Ramlakhan. "I'm on edge all the time. I don't know what's going to happen.
"I feel helpless so the least I can do is remind Canada, the global community, that Palestinian human rights should matter," said Arafa, vice-president of the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians (APAC) in Ottawa.
In Montreal, thousands of people demonstrated in the city's downtown amid blaring horns and firecrackers. Participants chanted pro-Palestinian slogans and urged the Canadian government to come to the aid of Palestinians.
The Montreal crowd also called for a boycott of goods from Israel and an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories. There were also several other small gatherings that took place in different parts of the city.
In Vancouver, about 1,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered downtown in front of the CBC broadcast centre before marching to the U.S. consulate. Speakers called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories as well as a cessation of the violence and bombings in Gaza.
On Sunday, members from B.C.'s Jewish community are planning a march in support of Israel.
In Halifax, pro-Palestinian demonstrators held a car rally outside Saint Mary's University. In response to this gathering, and an unrelated event at Citadel Hill, police said 21 tickets were issued.
Police said 200 vehicles participated in the rally and charges were laid under the Health Protection Act, Emergency Management Act and the Motor Vehicle Act. "Significant police resources were tied up clearing the traffic backlog," police said in a statement, adding that arrests were made.
Organisers of the car rally had posted warnings on social media that participants should stay in their vehicles to avoid violating Covid-19 safety guidelines.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Edmonton also held a car convoy on Saturday. About 1,200 vehicles took part in the event.
Pro-Israel virtual event planned for Sunday
On Thursday, Canadian Jewish community groups — including B'nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) — posted a joint statement in support of Israel and condemning the rocket attacks from militants in Gaza.
CIJA is also hosting a virtual solidarity event on Sunday at noon ET.
B'nai Brith Canada also released a statement on Wednesday calling for officials to enforce public health orders consistently after a gathering in downtown Toronto on Monday.
"B'nai Brith is contacting police in the relevant jurisdictions, urging them to caution rally organizers and issue fines if rallies proceed in violation of provincial health orders," the statement read.
After five days of violence, the worst fighting between Israelis and Palestinians since 2014, at least 145 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza — including 41 children and 23 women. There are eight dead on the Israeli side, all but one of them civilians, including a 6-year-old child.