Nerves on edge in Vancouver amid day of protests, escalating Israel-Hamas conflict | Globalnews.ca

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Emotions were high in Vancouver on Friday amid a call from a former Hamas leader for an international day of protest and escalating violence in Israel.

At least 500 people gathered to march up Commercial Drive from Broadway Friday evening.

The protesters chanted “free, free Palestine,” many carrying flags and deploying smoke canisters in Palestinian colours.


Click to play video: 'Safety concerns for Vancouver’s Jewish community'


Safety concerns for Vancouver’s Jewish community


Others held signs condemning Israeli occupation and the thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza as Israel bombards the territory in response to Hamas’ horrific attack on Israeli civilians over the weekend.

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Some protesters told Global News of concerns for family in Gaza, while others denounced Hamas, calling the group terrorists. As of 7 p.m., police escorting the protest said there had been no incidents and that the event was peaceful.

Safety fears in Jewish community

The protest came on a day when nerves were raw for the city’s Jewish community, with fears of violence after former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for worldwide protests and urged “scholars who teach jihad” to apply their theories.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver issued a security bulletin earlier this week, and police stepped up their presence outside of Jewish schools, community centres and synagogues.

At Vancouver’s Talmoud Torah school, only half of the students came to class as the fear of being targeted kept many at home.


Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s Jewish community on high alert'


Vancouver’s Jewish community on high alert


Some parents who spoke with Global News refused to appear on camera out of concern for their safety.

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“I’m so thankful … that they’re here, but they shouldn’t have to be here,” parent Kayla, who took her daughter to school on Friday, said of the police presence outside.

“She deserves to be safe, she deserves to sing songs and be three, and I decided not to let the fear stop me, otherwise they win.”

Fifteen-year-old Leah, who attends a public school in Vancouver, has spent the week since violence broke out in the Middle East at home with her mother.

She told Global News she’s experienced previous bullying and antisemitism at school.

“I’m one of the only Jewish students and … I don’t want to have to be scared at school,” she said.

“There were boys that were harassing and bullying her and yelling ‘Free Palestine’ at her and sending her messages,” her mother Tamar added.


Click to play video: 'Community concerns amid Israel-Gaza violence'


Community concerns amid Israel-Gaza violence


The Vancouver Police Department said it was taking security concerns seriously, but was not aware of any specific threats in the city.

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That fact, however, is cold comfort to many in the community, according to Rabbi Johnathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel.

“There was a threat against the Jewish community worldwide. Literally, for days I have been fielding phone calls from congregants, from members of the community, worried about today,” he said.

“No specific threats against the community in Vancouver, but since we’re part of a Jewish community, the feeling of fear is palpable.”

Infeld added that the number of people attending his services doubled this week as the community looked to one another for support.

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