Cape Town - Tens of thousands of people supporting Palestine marched to Parliament in Cape Town on Saturday in one of the biggest rallies the city has seen in 20 years.
The huge crowd, which stretched halfway across the inner city, chanted, sang and held aloft banners and posters calling for an end to the violence in the Gaza Strip.
“We estimate there are well over 30 000 people, and the figure could be as high as 50 000,” Cape Town's executive director safety and security Richard Bosman told Sapa.
Shortly after 1pm on Saturday, thousands of people were thronged for blocks around Parliament's main gates in Plein Street as speakers addressed them from the back of a flat-bed truck.
The march was called by the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P), which comprises more than 30 religious and civil society organisations, trade unions and political parties, including the Muslim Judicial Council, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, and the ANC Youth League.
In a statement earlier this week, the grouping said it was demanding “decisive action from the South African government against the Israeli attacks, killings, displacement and destruction of the Gaza Strip”.
It was also calling for an international inquiry into the conduct of Israeli armed forces in the Palestinian territory.
Earlier on Saturday, the marchers had followed a route from Keizergracht via Christiaan Barnard, Adderley and Plein streets to Parliament.
Melomed 24 Ambulance Services operations manager Shadley Abrahams told Sapa there had been no serious casualties among the marchers, whom he described as well organised.
“There were no serious incidents, thank goodness. We had some exhaustion cases, about eight of them, and four people tripped and hurt themselves, including one two-year-old boy who knocked his head.”
Abrahams, whose company had volunteered its services for the event, said it was one of the biggest marches he had seen in Cape Town.
“When the first marchers were half way up Adderley Street, the tail had still to leave Keizergracht,” he said.
Bosman confirmed the march had gone smoothly.
“There were no serious incidents. It was entirely peaceful,” he said.
There was strong anti-Israel sentiment among the marchers, with many displaying posters stating “Shame on Israel”, “Israel is an apartheid state” and “Stop Israeli murder”.
According to reports, more than 1900 people have been killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza a month ago.
Israel has said its aim is to stop the firing of rockets by Hamas militants into its territory, and to destroy a vast network of tunnels used to launch attacks into Israel.
The United Nations says over 1350 of those killed were civilians, including hundreds of women and children.
Israel has reported that more than 60 of its soldiers have been killed in the fighting. It also claims that about 900 militants have been killed.
The end of a three-day ceasefire in the region was marked on Friday morning by the firing of more rockets from Gaza into Israel.
In retaliation, Israel has resumed air strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip.
Police kept a close eye on the marchers.
A police armoured vehicle was parked higher up Plein Street, blocking the road, and police officers, several in body armour, could be seen gathered around it.
Along the route taken by the marchers, scores of people could be seen gazing down at the spectacle from roofs and balconies. Many of them were using their cellphones to record and photograph the event.
Earlier this week, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe avoided a direct response to a question on what government's exact position was on growing calls for a boycott of goods from Israel, and the withdrawal of both countries' ambassadors.
“We want peace in the Middle East. We are committed to facilitating the resolution of the conflict there. That is why (President Jacob Zuma) sent special envoys (to Palestine). So that's the position of the South African government,” he told journalists on Thursday during a media briefing in Pretoria. - Sapa