Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered near the Israeli Consulate in West L.A. Saturday to condemn the country’s ongoing aerial bombardment of Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ attack one week ago.
Demonstrators began gathering on Wilshire and Sepulveda boulevards around noon and by 3 p.m. the size of the crowd had grown to about several thousand. At one point, the southbound lanes of the nearby 405 Freeway were briefly shut down.
Carrying signs that said “Free Palestine” and “End the Occupation,” the crowd marched from Wilshire Boulevard and Granville Avenue, where the consulate is located, to a federal office building that houses the FBI’s Los Angeles’ offices about one mile away. Videos from the scene show green and red smoke billowing into the air and signs decrying apartheid.
The demonstration was largely peaceful, though the appearance of a small crowd of pro-Israeli counter-demonstrators sparked confrontations midday. As pushing and shoving occurred between the two sides, one man among the pro-Israeli crowd fired a volley of pepper spray, injuring a Times photographer.
Footage taken at the scene also showed a small group of men in all black, some of whom wore Israeli flags around their necks like capes, pepper-spraying demonstrators before running away.
A number of people who would only identify themselves as “volunteers” wearing yellow vests stepped in several times throughout the day to try and deescalate clashes with counter-protesters.
Around 4:15 p.m., some members of the group leading the demonstration called for an end to the protest, and portions of the pro-Palestinian crowd began leaving the area.
While there was a sizable police presence in the area, an LAPD spokesman said there were no reports of arrests or serious injuries as of 4:45 p.m.
The demonstration was one of many held in major cities around the world Saturday calling for an end to violence that has claimed more than 1,300 Israeli lives and left more than 2,200 people dead in Gaza since last Saturday. The fighting began on Oct. 7, when Hamas launched a surprise attack, killing hundreds of Israelis and also 11 Americans while taking hostages on a major Jewish holiday.
Since then, Israel has engaged in a round-the-clock bombardment campaign as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to “destroy Hamas.” But the attacks have had dire impacts for civilians in Gaza, already one of the most impoverished locales on Earth, severely limiting access to fresh water and medical supplies for thousands of civilians.
Israel’s military has said it is preparing a coordinated offensive in Gaza using air, ground and naval forces. The chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, has accused Hamas of trying to use civilians as human shields and has called for Gaza residents to move south before the military offensive expands.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.