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Stop The War! London demonstration Saturday 5th August 2006

05 August 2006

STWR joined over 100,000 members of the public filled the streets of central London on Saturday 5thAugust, demanding an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.

Protestors were from all walks of life and included Muslims, Jews, Conservatives and Socialist, all opposing the US and UK’s handling of the Middle East Crisis, and condemning Israel’s ongoing occupation and military attacks in the region.

Similar protests occurred in other cities around the world at the same time as the UN Security Council was meeting to agree the text of a draft UN resolution. The demonstrations reflect international concern at the growing number of civilian casualties in Palestine and the potential war crimes that Israel is committing. Similar calls for an immediate ceasefire have been made repeatedly by United Nations agencies, and most vocally by Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN.

The official death toll in Lebanon continues to rise, currently standing at over 1000 dead. As the humanitarian crisis escalates, aid agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to bring relief to effected civilians as most of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed by the highly sophisticated Israeli war machine.

Although the UK emergency demonstration was organized only a week ago by the Stop the War Coalition, the massive attendance from all over the UK reflects the ever escalating resentment and anger felt by the public toward President Bush and Prime Minister Blair’s Middle East policy since the war on Iraq. Amongst the many chants, protesters were calling on Bush and Blair to be removed from office and to be held responsible for their war crimes. Protesters also denounced the weeks of inaction by the US and UK as a hostile act toward the democratically elected nations of Lebanon and Palestine.

Among the speakers at Parliament Square were a furious George Galloway MP; Diane Abbot MP who deplored Israel’s actions as war crimes upon Lebanon; and Tony Benn who summed up the crowd’s thoughts on the wider implication of the crisis by stating that:

“The United States are working with Israel to conquer the Lebanon, in order to deal with Syria and Iran, and establish American Supremacy in the Middle East….There will be no peace in the Middle east….until every Israeli soldier has left the Lebanon; Until the Israeli’s have left the occupied territories; Until the British and Americans have left Iraq….and abandoned their threat to Syria and Iran.”

At the beginning of August, Britain blocked a move by the European Union to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. The emergency demonstration reiterated these calls for an immediate ceasefire, this time by the British public as demonstrators delivered a petition to Tony Blair signed by more than 35,000 people. In a recent open letter to the Prime Minister, 16 organizations stated the government had recognized the situation's "catastrophic impact" but was still not using its influence to push for a ceasefire. Signatories of the letter include Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children, Cafod, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Medact, the Muslim Council of Britain, the union Unison, War on Want, the Welfare Association and World Vision

In addition, a group of over 100 cross party MPs have signed a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East. The latest criticisms from within the House of Commons come at a time of unease within the Labour Party, penetrating the Cabinet over the Government's position, with serious concerns having been voiced by Leader of the Commons Jack Straw, Environment Secretary David Miliband and International Development Secretary Hilary Benn. There are also reports that Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has pressed No 10 for a change of policy.

Despite the overwhelming size and country wide support for the demonstration, mainstream media coverage in the UK was minimal, a phenomena that is by now widely expected by organizers and participants. Demonstrators widely perceived this bias as applying generally to the framing of the Middle East crisis by the media, particularly in its lack of historical analysis of the root causes of the conflict; the ongoing occupation of territory in both Lebanon and Palestine by Israel and the continued incarceration of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese men, women and children by Israel as prisoners of war.

As the atrocities continue to escalate, STWR reiterate the call for international pressure to be brought to bear upon the Israeli government to establish an immediate ceasefire and resume peace talks. The ultimate aim must be to end the occupation of territory, demilitarize the region and to negotiate the return of prisoners. The foreign policy interests of the US and UK must not be a factor in these negotiations.

John Rees from the Stop the War Coalition underlined what is at stake and stressed the urgency of the situation as he addressed the protestors-

"If we don't stop this war, there will be a general war across the region that will make what is happening now pale into insignificance".