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Montrealers gather at candlelight vigil to condemn Gaza crisis

More than 50 Montrealers braved the chill last night at a downtown vigil in support of the people of the Gaza Strip, who are suffering under an Israeli blockade that has severely restricted their access to food, water, fuel, and electricity.

Held on Ste. Catherine Street across from the Bay, the candlelit vigil brought in supporters from a range of organizations calling for the end of the Gaza blockade, and for Canada to put pressure on the Israeli government.

“It’s very cold here, but it’s nothing compared to what the people in Gaza are going through right now,” said Mohamed Kamel, a member of the Canadian Muslim Forum, to the small crowd.

Last Wednesday, Israel launched military incursions into Gaza and on Thursday imposed an embargo, saying it was punishment for rockets fired over the border by Palestinian militants.

John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories, last week called the Israeli military operations war crimes that violated the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. In September 2007, Israeli declared Gaza a “hostile entity” and has threatened a full-scale invasion.

Israel eased the blockade on Tuesday to allow some delivery of goods, but quickly strengthened it again. Yesterday, tens of thousands of Gaza residents flooded into Egypt to buy food and fuel after Palestinian militants breached the border walls.

“Gaza, it’s a prison… People cannot go out of it, they cannot fly in or out,” said Jean Gravend, a member of Palestinians and Jews United at the Montreal demonstration.

The European Union and many Arab countries have condemned the blockade, warning that it is hastening a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The European external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said the Israeli actions constitute “collective punishment.”

At yesterday’s demonstration, Gravend and others called for Canada to also condemn Israel’s actions.

“We are an accomplice if we do not protest and try to change things,” Gravend said.

Feroz Mehdi, a member of Alternatives International, said grassroots actions such as the vigil were crucial for disseminating information, and for pushing the Canadian government to act.

“We have to impress upon the Canadian government that it’s got to get its act together, and call this a humanitarian crisis,” Mehdi said. “There are 1.4 million people in Gaza. These people are not terrorists; they’re ordinary people trying to live.”

Israeli military operations since last week have killed 40 Palestinians, at least 10 of them civilians. Palestinian militants killed an Ecuadorian kibbutz volunteer last week.

A coalition of various Palestinian groups organized the event, including the Coalition for Peace and Justice in Palestine, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, Palestinians and Jews United, and Alternatives.

Also at the vigil were members of the Confederation des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Quebec’s largest trade union, and CEGEP teachers.

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and other groups are planning a larger demonstration for tomorrow, starting at 2 p.m. at Concordia’s Hall Building.