Demonstrations held across Canada amid escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians

Demonstrations were held across Canada on Saturday amid escalating violence in the Middle East, with pro-Palestinian supporters gathering in cities from coast to coast and a pro-Israel virtual event planned for Sunday.

Tense standoff in Winnipeg between opposing groups, big pro-Palestinian rallies in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal

People in Montreal attend a demonstration on Saturday in support of Palestinians amid escalating violence between Israeli forces and militants in Gaza. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Demonstrations were held across Canada on Saturday amid escalating violence in the Middle East, with pro-Palestinian groups gathering in cities from coast to coast and a pro-Israel virtual event planned for Sunday.

The latest developments in the confrontation between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants saw more deadly airstrikes from Israel into Gaza on Saturday. Israeli forces destroyed a highrise building housing media outlets, including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, and bombed the home of a senior Hamas leader. Hamas continued a stream of rocket volleys into Israel, including a late-night barrage on Tel Aviv.

In Winnipeg, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators were separated by more than a dozen police officers outside the Manitoba legislature. Despite tensions between the groups, Winnipeg police said no arrests had been made in connection with the rallies as of Saturday afternoon.

Idris Elbakri, a Palestinian-Canadian from Jerusalem who attended the rally, called on the federal government "to take a much more balanced, principled approach" to the ongoing situation in the region. "Unfortunately right now, I don't think that's the case," he said.

Protesters on both sides of the police line at the Winnipeg rally broke provincial public health orders; under Manitoba's current restrictions, gatherings in outdoor public spaces aren't supposed to exceed five people.

The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg said in a social media post on Friday the event was not done in consultation with the city's organized Jewish community and that it wasn't encouraging people to attend the rally on Saturday — the Jewish Sabbath.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators gathered in front of the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on Saturday. The groups were separated by more than a dozen police officers. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

In Toronto, thousands of demonstrators packed into Nathan Phillips Square near city hall to denounce the violence against Palestinians in Gaza. Toronto police estimated between 2,500 and 5,000 people attended the protest.

"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 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. As of Saturday night, police had no information about any arrests made in connection with the rally.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators attended a rally in Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday. (CBC)
A close-up of the rally at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on Saturday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

'I'm on edge all the time'

In Ottawa, organizations 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.

Hundreds of people hold signs and wave Palestinian flags at a rally near the Human Rights Monument in downtown Ottawa on Saturday. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

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.

Thousands of people demonstrated in downtown Montreal on Saturday as participants chanted pro-Palestinian slogans. (Louis de Belleval/Radio-Canada)

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 of British Columbia's Jewish community are planning a march in support of Israel.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered in Vancouver on Saturday. (Doug Kerr/CBC News)

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.

Organizers of the car rally had posted warnings on social media that participants should stay in their vehicles to avoid violating COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Police said more than 200 vehicles participated in a pro-Palestinian car rally near Saint Mary's University in Halifax on Saturday. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Edmonton also held a car convoy on Saturday. About 1,200 vehicles took part in the event.

A woman waves a Palestinian flag during a car convoy organized by pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Edmonton on Saturday. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

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 six-year-old child.

WATCH | What's behind the recent violence in the Middle East:

What's behind recent violence in the Middle East

2 years ago
Duration 4:51
A look at the long-standing tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the most recent escalation.

With files from The Associated Press