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Pro-Palestinian protests roil university campuses from Washington to Amsterdam

Published 08/05/2024, 06:59
Updated 09/05/2024, 02:16
© Reuters. Students and employees of the University of Amsterdam take part in a march against the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza and the University leadership after police broke up a student protest camp overnight, i

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Dutch riot police clashed with protesters at the University of Amsterdam on Wednesday, while scores of demonstrators at U.S. colleges were arrested overnight as the student-led protests against Israel's war in Gaza roiled more campuses on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Amsterdam, protesters atop makeshift barriers of desks, bricks and wooden pallets used fire extinguishers to push back police, local television showed. Reuters video showed officers in riot gear struck protesters on the head with batons and knocked down the barricades, dragging many young students away as hundreds of others shouted "Shame on you!"

The confrontation underscored mounting tensions at European campuses, after weeks of unrest at dozens of U.S. universities as students call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

At George Washington University in Washington, D.C., police took down tents, deployed pepper spray and cleared demonstrators from campus and the surrounding streets, a few blocks away from the White House.

Thirty-three people were arrested, police said. Metropolitan Police Chief Pamela Smith said at a news conference that authorities had seen "an escalation in the volatility of the protests" in recent days, prompting police and the university to make the decision to remove the encampment.

Smith and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had been scheduled to testify to Congress later on Wednesday about why they had previously declined to clear the encampment, but the hearing was cancelled after the raid.

At the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, police arrested more than 130 people and removed an encampment after the school's chancellor, Javier Reyes, said he had summoned police "as a last resort."

"This is not the outcome we had hoped for," he added.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the move, faulting the school for "calling heavily armed police on student political expression." The school's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group posted video showing protesters thrown to the ground and faculty members among those arrested.

In New York, police arrested dozens of demonstrators at the Fashion Institute of Technology, according to video posted on social media.

Some faculty members at The New School in Manhattan set up a new encampment on Wednesday, according to an Instagram post from the school's SJP chapter, days after the city police department cleared a tent city there and arrested more than 40 people.

DIVESTMENT DEMANDS

Israel's retaliatory campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan authorities, and triggered a catastrophic humanitarian crisis and famine threatening the enclave's 2.5 million residents.

The war began when the militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Students in both the U.S. and Europe have been holding mostly peaceful demonstrations calling for an immediate permanent ceasefire and for schools to cut financial ties with companies they say are profiting from the oppression of Palestinians.

In Amsterdam, UvA management said on Monday it had exchange programmes with three universities in Israel, which are halted because of security concerns, and was cooperating with Israeli scientists or companies in eight different European research projects.

It said none of those partnerships were in support of military goals; the statement did not mention the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered on Wednesday afternoon outside the university of Utrecht, about 45 kilometres (28 miles) southeast of Amsterdam.

On Tuesday, police dispersed protests at the Swiss University of Zurich and at the courtyard of the Freie Universitaet Berlin.

Last week, police took similar action at the Sorbonne University in Paris, while on Wednesday the Brussels University said it would file a police complaint against students who were allegedly involved in a violent protest, including an assault on the Jewish students union leader.

Not all campus protests have ended in confrontation. Ireland's Trinity College Dublin announced on Wednesday that an encampment and blockade on campus would end peacefully after students and administrators negotiated a settlement.

© Reuters. Police officers remove a pro-Palestinian protester outside the University of Amsterdam during a protest against the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 8 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Among other commitments, the school said it would divest from Israeli companies the United Nations has linked to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and would "endeavour" to divest from other Israeli companies.

Students had camped out since May 3, forcing the university to restrict campus access and to close an exhibition of the 1,200-year-old Book of Kells, one of Ireland's top tourist attractions.

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