Pro-Palestinian protesters run from police following a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Tensions flare at Israel-Palestinian demonstrations in Montreal, Toronto

Tensions ran high at competing demonstrations over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both Montreal and Toronto this weekend.

Police in Montreal confirmed they responded to a conflict that erupted between protesters and counter-protesters at a rally in support of Israel near the city’s downtown Sunday afternoon.

People were heard shouting “Free Palestine” as they ran from police, who fired chemical irritants into the air.

The pro-Israel rally comes one day after thousands attended a pro-Palestinian march in Montreal to demand an end to Israeli airstrikes over the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, police in Toronto say they’ve laid charges in connection with a pro-Palestinian demonstration that drew more than 5,000 people to Nathan Phillips Square outside City Hall on Saturday night.

A 22-year-old man faces an assault charge, while a 29-year-old man was charged with bringing a weapon to a public meeting.

Police say they’re also investigating a separate alleged assault outside the square that was circulating on social media. A spokesperson confirmed it was connected to the demonstration but offered no other details.

The protests were stoked by five days of mayhem that left at least 145 Palestinians dead in Gaza and eight dead on the Israeli side. The violence, set off by Hamas firing a rocket into Israel on Monday, came after weeks of mounting tensions in contested Jerusalem.

Israel stepped up its assault and slammed the Gaza Strip with airstrikes Saturday, in a dramatic escalation that included bombing the home of a senior Hamas leader, killing a family of 10 in a refugee camp and destroying a building that housed the offices of The Associated Press and other media.

Several public figures took to their social media accounts to denounce violence and call for calm.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he strongly condemns “the despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend.”

“Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada – but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind,” he tweeted.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on police to investigate any acts of anti-Semitism, which he says have no place in the province.

“Discrimination or hatred of any kind against any community in our province should never be tolerated,” he wrote on Twitter.

Toronto police have said that Jewish people were the group most frequently victimized by hate crimes in 2020.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs alleged both protests included aggressive acts of anti-Semitism, including Nazi imagery, death threats against Israeli supporters and at least one physical assault. Police forces declined to offer details of what transpired.

The centre said it was “gravely concerned” with what it described as “a wave of violence and anti-Semitism impacting communities across Canada.”

“There is absolutely no justification for political violence of any kind in our streets, whatever one’s cause may be,” it said in a statement. “…Like all Canadians of goodwill, Canada’s Jewish community seeks peace and a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. At the same time, we urge our neighbours of all backgrounds to join us in condemning these disturbing acts.”

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