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Pro-Palestinian protesters block entrance to UK’s biggest military supplier

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Dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters blocked the entrances to a BAE Systems factory in southeast England on Friday, targeting Britain’s biggest military supplier to call for an end to arms sales to Israel.

Holding up a sign saying “Stop Arming Israel” and waving Palestinian flags, about 50 people stood in front of one entrance at the Rochester, Kent, site, where BAE tests and assembles electronic equipment used on military aircraft and in surveillance systems.

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Tens of protesters gathered at other entrances.

Protestors and trade unionists blockade BAE Systems Rochester, during a protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza in Rochester, Kent, Britain, November 10, 2023. (Reuters)
Protestors and trade unionists blockade BAE Systems Rochester, during a protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza in Rochester, Kent, Britain, November 10, 2023. (Reuters)

BAE said it does not directly export any equipment to Israel, but the group is a tier-one supplier on the United States-made F-35 fighter jets which are flown by Israel.

“We’re horrified by the situation in Israel and Gaza and the devastating impact it’s having on civilians in the region and we hope it can be resolved as soon as possible,” a BAE spokesperson said, alluding to the war between Israel and Hamas.

“We respect everyone’s right to protest peacefully. We operate under the tightest regulation and comply fully with all applicable defense export controls, which are subject to ongoing assessment.”

Demonstrators protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in London, Britain, on October 28, 2023. (Reuters)
Demonstrators protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in London, Britain, on October 28, 2023. (Reuters)

The protest at the British facility follows action taken by unions in Belgium and Spain who have refused to handle shipments of military material over the war in Gaza.

Israel has besieged and invaded Gaza vowing to destroy its ruling Hamas group in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack – a move that international human rights groups have described as a form of “collective punishment,” which they say could classify as a war crime.
Israel’s Gaza onslaught has killed over 10,000 people, health officials in Gaza say.

Earlier this week, the Barcelona port stevedores’ union refused to load or unload any military material, while in late October, Belgian transport workers’ unions called on their members to not handle military equipment being sent to Israel.

There have been regular demonstrations in cities across Europe in recent weeks to show support for Gaza’s Palestinians.

A large pro-Palestinian march planned for Saturday in London has caused controversy as it coincides with the anniversary of the end of World War One, prompting fears that counter-protesters could also descend on the capital.

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