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US law enforcement on alert, thousands rally for Palestinian cause in New York City

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© Members of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Counterterrorism unit patrol in Times Square, as the city takes security precautions ahead of planned demonstrations, in New York City, U.S., October 12, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Joseph Ax and Julia Harte

NEW YORK () -U.S. law enforcement agencies stepped up security measures on Friday to safeguard Jewish and Muslim communities amid global protests over Israeli-Arab bloodshed in the Middle East, as thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets in New York City.

Throngs of protesters assembled near Times Square in Manhattan, demanding Palestinian independence and decrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his government intensified its strikes on Gaza in retaliation for assaults in Israel by Hamas.

The protesters, many wearing masks to conceal their identities out of what they said was concern for their own safety, chanted such slogans as “Free Palestine,” and “Netanyahu, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?”

The rally came as police in New York and other U.S. cities said they escalating patrols around synagogues, mosques and other Jewish and Muslim institutions, though authorities insisted they were unaware of any specific, or credible threats.

The heightened security follows a call by former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal for protests on Friday in support of Palestinians.

Israel in recent days has intensified its strikes on Gaza in response to brutal assaults on southern Israel last weekend by gunmen from the Iranian-backed militant group Hamas, which controls the crowded coastal Palestinian enclave.

The Hamas rampage killed at least 1,300 Israelis, marking the deadliest Palestinian attack on the Jewish state in its history. At least 1,800 Palestinians have been killed in an aerial bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli military in return.

U.S. national security officials met at the White House on Friday to discuss preparations for protecting Jewish and Muslim communities across the country, as well as diplomatic facilities in Washington and cities where Israeli consulates are located, including New York and Los Angeles.

“At this time, none of our intelligence agencies have any specific intelligence indicating a threat to the United States stemming from the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel,” White House spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:) said. “That said, we continue to remain vigilant to any and all possible threats.”

New York City police were out in force, keeping a highly visible profile behind barriers at the edge of the boisterous but peaceful rally in Times Square, as thousands shouted, beat on drums and waved Palestinian flags and signs. There were no counter protesters in evidence.

A smaller group of pro-Palestinian student demonstrators marched from Baruch College in Manhattan to the larger gathering in Times Square, holding signs that read: “Resistance is not terrorism!” and “End Israeli apartheid.”

The New York rally coincided with protests in support of Gazans across the Middle East and in parts of Asia and Europe. By contrast, Germany and France – which have sizeable Arab populations – banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

By contrast, Germany and France – two Western European countries with sizeable Arab populations – had banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

The New York Police Department’s chief of patrol, John Chell, had told reporters on Thursday that every NYPD officer would “be in uniform” on Friday, ready to quell any disturbances, warning, “We will not tolerate any hate, any acts of disorder.”

Mayor Eric Adams said his office had directed police to “surge additional resources to schools and houses of worship to ensure they are safe and that our city remains a place of peace.” Extra police patrols were being deployed in Jewish and Muslim communities alike, he said.

Governor Kathy Hochul ordered New York state’s National Guard to patrol vital transportation hubs.

Across the country, the Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying its officers would assume a higher profile around Jewish and Muslim communities.

PRO-ISRAELI RALLY

In Washington, a rally supporting Israel and the American Jewish community drew about 200 people at the city’s Freedom Plaza, in view of the Capitol complex, where police had erected protective fencing the night before.

Ron Halber, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, blasted calls for a cease-fire and addressed criticism that Israel was using disproportionate force.

Halber said Saturday’s attacks had shown that using “equal force” against an enemy like Hamas was ineffective. “Those used to be the days but don’t expect the Jewish people (to) ever accept that type of situation ever again,” he said.

Protests erupted at several U.S. college campuses on Thursday after a national pro-Palestinian group declared a “day of resistance” and called for its 200 college chapters to hold demonstrations. The protests occurred amid reports of assaults against students on both sides, and some chapters canceled them for safety reasons.

The FBI said it was aware of the calls for global action that may lead to demonstrations in U.S. communities on Friday and encouraged members of the public to remain vigilant.

Rabbi Yoni Fein, who heads a large Jewish day school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Brauser Maimonides Academy, said on Thursday that “higher alerts of operations are definitely in place” in anticipation of global protests on Friday.

He said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other federal authorities had held online security sessions with Jewish institutions around the country.

But Fein said the school was seeking to reassure students they are safe and to go about their lives.

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