- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

PARIS Tens of thousands protested in Paris and Rome yesterday, expressing solidarity with Palestinians and demanding that Israel stop its offensive in the West Bank.
More than 20,000 people in the French capital marched to the Place de la Bastille, where hundreds of police stood by. Some protesters carried shredded U.S. flags and shouted slogans against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"Sharon assassin" and "Arabs, Jews together against Sharon," they chanted in the protest organized by dozens of pro-Palestinian, anti-racism and communist groups.
Supporters of Israel were to march in Paris and other cities today, with a dual goal of backing Israel and denouncing a series of anti-Semitic attacks in France in recent weeks.
International pressure has been growing on Israel to end its operation in the West Bank that was begun March 29 after a series of Palestinian suicide attacks. Israeli troops have swept into six Palestinian towns, battling gunmen and arresting hundreds, as well as confining Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to his offices.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement yesterday that he was concerned about the "humanitarian situation throughout the Palestinian territories."
In Rome, about 20,000 protesters marched through downtown, ending up at a rally in Piazza del Popolo, where the crowd swelled to about 50,000.
A few marchers at the front of the procession yesterday wore black face masks and bandanas similar to those worn by Palestinian militants. Some carried banners calling for "Intifada until victory," while others chanted for a "Liberated Palestine."
Italy's three main unions and two major leftist parties, however, decided at the last minute not to participate in the march, amid criticism of the protest by Jewish groups.
Andrea Parrella, who walked with his Labrador draped in a Palestinian flag, expressed some concern about the march turning into a venue for anti-Jewish sentiments.
"I think it's important for me to show my support these [Palestinians] have neither land nor water," he said, but added that "there is a risk that this demonstration could be turned into something anti-Semitic."
Other pro-Palestinian marches took place in smaller French and Italian cities. In Sydney, Australia, some 5,000 people marched to the Israeli and U.S. consulates, shouting "Free Palestine" and waving flags and placards.
"We are here to condemn the Israeli occupation of the territories, but also to condemn the recent racist attacks in France, against both Jews and Arabs," said Jean-Claude Vessillier, a spokesman for MRAP, one of France's leading anti-racism groups.
As violence in the Middle East escalated in recent weeks, arson and vandalism attacks increased on Jewish sites in France, including cemeteries and synagogues.

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