Thousands attend central London rally calling on Hamas to release hostages

Thousands of people attended a rally in central London on Sunday calling for the safe return of hostages by Hamas.

The “solidarity rally” in Trafalgar Square was organised by a number of groups, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Relatives of those murdered and abducted by Hamas fighters on October 7, when some 200 hostages were seized during an incursion into Israel, addressed the vigil.

Ayelet Svatitzky, whose brother was killed, and whose mother and another brother were abducted, said: “The crimes that Hamas perpetrated against the Jewish people, against humanity, were intended to break the Jewish spirit. Instead, they united us.”

Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother, sister-in-law, and two young children were abducted, said: “This is not a political struggle.

“It is a struggle for humanity. Babies, women, and the elderly should not be in captivity. Stand by Israel.”

Many in the crowd chanted “bring them home” and held signs that said “release the hostages”.

The Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, thanked the King, the Prince of Wales, and cross-party political leaders for their support in wake of Hamas’ attack, while Communities Secretary Michael Gove told the vigil “Britain stands with Israel”.

Sir Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis attends a Solidarity Rally with members of the Jewish community in Trafalgar Square, central London (Lucy North/PA)

“It’s at a time such as this that we discover who our true friends are,” Sir Ephraim said.

“It’s at a time such as this that words do matter and to all our friends from whom so far we haven’t heard a single word, your silence is deafening. Words do matter.

“Sometimes we hear reference to both sides or the two sides but we ourselves know there are indeed two sides, one is good and the other is evil. Israel uses her forces in order to protect her citizens while Hamas uses its citizens to protect its forces.

“Those who fail to condemn, condone. Those who refuse to call Hamas terrorists allow the legitimising of their brutal deeds.”

Many in attendance carried Israeli flags and placards showing the faces of those taken hostage.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Many in the crowd chanted ‘bring them home’ and held signs that said ‘release the hostages’ (Lucy North/PA)

Mr Gove condemned the “evil and barbarism” of Hamas and echoed calls for the hostages to be released.

He said: “There are no words to describe the suffering of families who have seen their relatives butchered in front of them and relatives who who live in hope that those who were living peacefully in their homes just two weeks ago and are now in a Hamas dungeon should be freed.

“No words can sum up the evil of those responsible for these acts.

“But words matter and promises matter and world made a promise 75 years ago, never again.

“And what did we see a fortnight ago? The biggest most horrific slaughter of Jewish people since the Holocaust, carried out by terrorists, an act of evil unparalleled evil and barbarism. We must stand together against it. We must stand for life. We must bring the hostages home.

Michael Gove
Michael Gove addressed the rally in central London (Lucy North/PA)

“There is a difference between now and 1945 and that difference is the Jewish people have a home, they have a nation. That nation was born in hope to uphold humanity’s greatest virtues.”

He added: “The IDF are there to protect civilians. Hamas exist to slaughter civilians.”

Mr Gove said the security of Jewish people in Israel and in Britain “matters so much”.

He added: “It breaks my heart to know that there are Jewish children who must disguise their school uniform to hide the fact that they got to a Jewish school.

“It breaks my heart that there are students at our universities who must hide the Star of David around their neck, or that their are Jewish individuals who dare not wear the wear the kippah on our streets for fear of what might be done.

“Our Jewish community must be protected. And when we see people on our streets with posters celebrating paragliding killers, when we see terrorist flags waved, when we see chants which call for the elimination of the Jewish state, then we must be clear: never again shall we see these words, these symbols, this hate.”

The Metropolitan Police said two arrests had been made in relation to the vigil.

Officers made an arrest for a racially aggravated public order offence after a man drove past shouting antisemitic abuse.

As the vigil drew to a close, a second arrest was made for a public order Offence after shouting abuse towards those taking part.