January 17, 2009 / 5:44 PM / 11 years ago

Israeli flags burnt in Gaza demonstration in Paris

PARIS, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Several thousand people protested in France and Italy on Saturday against Israel’s military offensive in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

Some protesters burnt American and Israeli flags at the start of the Paris demonstration, one of several held around the world to protest against the Gaza violence.

Thousands marched through Rome, some holding banners with Nazi swastikas superimposed on the Star of David.

Others carried pictures of Palestinian children killed since Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27 with the stated goal of halting rocket salvoes from the territory.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says at least 1,205 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, among them 410 children. Israel has lost 10 soldiers, and three civilians hit by Hamas rocket fire.

A large banner reading "Life, land and liberty for the Palestinian people" led the Rome demonstration.

In Paris, protesters smashed the windows of a McDonald’s restaurant on the capital’s rue de Rivoli, while cars and buildings were vandalised during another Gaza protest held in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

Police said 2,600 people took part in the Paris protest.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities, and Israel’s Gaza offensive has stirred up some tension between the two communities.

In Rome, as the demonstration passed the Colosseum, Muslims in the crowd bent in prayer before the ancient monument.

Earlier this month, conservative politicians balked after Muslims in predominantly Catholic Italy prayed in public squares during demonstrations against Israel in Milan and Bologna.

Another demonstration took place in Assisi, the central Italian city where St. Francis was born.

The Vatican, meanwhile, announced that Pope Benedict had sent an unspecified amount of money from his personal charity funds to help the tiny Catholic population in Gaza.

In Cairo, Egyptian police used batons to beat protesters who rallied against the Israeli offensive, witnesses said. (Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Veronique Tison)

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