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Pro-Palestinian march in London over Gaza draws thousands

By Natalie Thomas and Will Russell

LONDON (Reuters) -Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched in central London on Saturday, calling for an end to Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip which was triggered by last weekend's rampage in Israel by the Hamas militant group.

Protesters, many of them waving Palestinian flags and signs saying "Free Palestine," gathered close to Oxford Circus from where they headed to Downing Street, the official residence and office of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Chants were aimed at the governments of Britain and the United States for supporting Israel.

Belal Stitan, a 22 year-old student, said he was fearful for his relatives in Gaza.

"No one in Gaza is OK. My family are all in Gaza and none of them are OK," he said, adding he wanted to get back to being able to speak to his cousins about normal things such as soccer and how they were getting on in school.

"This situation is a big, big problem for humanity and for me to have to say to the world, remember that we are human beings ..., I can't believe that we are here."

Asmat Malik, a 29 year-old pharmacist, said people were angry at what they considered the oppression of Palestinians over decades.

"But it doesn't mean that people condone Hamas in the slightest, because being pro-Palestine doesn't mean you're anti-Semitic. I think that's really important to stress," she said.

Police issued warnings before the "March for Palestine" that anyone with a flag expressing support for Hamas or other groups proscribed as terrorist by Britain would be arrested.

As the demonstration ended, police said seven arrests had been made, four of them for refusing to remove face masks.

Television images showed a group of protesters scuffling with police and firing fireworks at them.

Earlier on Saturday, the headquarters of the BBC broadcaster, which is located close the start of the march, was daubed in red paint. It was not immediately clear who had defaced the entrance to the building.

Pro-Palestinian protests took place in other cities in Britain and around the world on Saturday.

(Reporting by Natalie Thomas and Will RussellWriting by William SchombergEditing by Christina Fincher)