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Vic: Protesters take sides in Israeli conflict

By Daniel Fogarty
04 Jan 2009 4:59 PM

MELBOURNE, Jan 4 AAP - About 3,000 people have turned out to protest against Israel's military assault on Gaza, just a few blocks away from a smaller pro-Israel rally in central Melbourne.

About 500 supporters of Israel gathered at State Parliament chanting "no more terror", with banning called for Gaza to be freed from Hamas' control.

At the Victorian State Library less than a kilometre away, pro-Palestinian protesters condemned the Israeli military action.

The rallies were held as invading Israeli ground forces fought fierce battles with Hamas in Gaza on Sunday, after an escalating eight-day bombing blitz that killed hundreds of Palestinians and wreaked widespread destruction.

Gaza medics said more than 463 Palestinians had been killed - including 75 children - and 2,310 had been wounded in the air campaign.

Protesters at the pro-Israel rally were draped in Australian and Israeli flags, and some held banners reading "Free Gaza from Hamas" and "Hamas uses human shields".

Speakers included federal Labor member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby and Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield.

Mr Danby asked Melburnians to imagine how they would react if their suburbs were being bombed.

"This is one of the dilemmas that democratic societies like Israel have to face. How do we react when faced by Islamist fanatics who would kill Australians, in Bali, murder our tourists in Mumbai and do what they are doing to the Israelis on the edge of Gaza," he said.

At the opposing rally, about 3,000 protesters called for a free Palestine and held banners showing photos of the bloodied corpses of children.

Other banners read, "stop the holocaust in Gaza" and "peace =3D justice for Palestine".

Speakers urged supporters to write to the prime minister and newspapers to condemn the Israeli action.

Victorian upper house Greens member Colleen Hartland called on the federal government to speak out against the Israeli military assault.

Police on horses wearing protective visors watched closely as the protesters marched down Swanston Street to Federation Square calling out "Free Palestine" and "Out, out Israeli out".

The two protest groups did not meet and there were no reports of trouble.