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Amid rising tensions, Montreal students rally in support of Gaza

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As tensions surrounding the Israel-Hamas war mount in Montreal, students from across the city are conducting a walkout Thursday afternoon to show their support for Gaza.

As of about 1:30 p.m., roughly 500 had gathered at the Y-intersection of the McGill University campus for a rally. 

"We are calling on all students, from high schools, CEGEPs and universities, to show up and march for Gaza as a unified student front," reads a Facebook post by the group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill.

The rally was initially scheduled to start on Guy Street and de Maisonneuve Boulevard, near Concordia University, but it was changed after an altercation erupted Wednesday between Israel and Palestine supporters on campus.

At least three people were injured, and one arrest was made.

"Unfortunately, given yesterday's events and the large amount of threats we have received, we cannot guarantee the safety of our members as well as our community at this moment," reads an Instagram post by the SPHR's Concordia branch. "Thus, we have decided to move our walkout to another location outside of campus."

Students on both sides of the issue told CTV News Wednesday that they feel unsafe in the current environment.

RALLY POSTERS CRITICIZED

Posters promoting the rally were spread across university campuses and social media in recent days. One version, which depicts people kicking through a glass window, provoked public condemnation from McGill's principal and vice-chancellor, Deep Saini.

In a letter published on the university website, Saini called the posters "antisemetic," noting that the rally was scheduled on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

"Publicizing an event through allusions to destruction of property is troubling. Far worse is using an image of people breaking glass to encourage participation in an event planned for November 9th, the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a series of violent attacks in Nazi Germany that saw mobs smash the windows of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses," he wrote.

"Considering all facts and relevant contexts, I can only conclude that these posters are antisemitic. They are deplorable and unacceptable, and they have no place within our campus community."

A poster promoting a student rally in support of Gaza was condemned by McGill's principal, who pointed to the 1938 Kristallnacht of Nazi Germany.

Kristallnacht, sometimes referred to as the "Night of Broken Glass," was a 1938 Nazi Germany riot against Jews, in which dozens were killed and tens of thousands were abducted and sent to concentration camps. The night also bore the widespread destruction of Jewish schools, businesses, and synagogues. 

"Given the tone of the promotional material associated with the event planned for this afternoon, I am deeply concerned about the safety of our community," said Saini, adding that he has requested the presence of additional security on campus during the rally. 

DEMONSTRATORS STAGE SIT IN AT PM'S OFFICE

Elsewhere in the city, a small group of demonstrators staged a sit-in at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s riding office on Cremazie Blvd. They said they weren’t prepared to leave until Trudeau calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“And that doesn’t mean a two hour or four hour pause,” said Chris Lloyd, who livestreamed the event on social media -- “A little corridor for humanitarian aid, no. We want a full on ceasefire.”

“I couldn’t go any more, and many of my friends can’t either, in good conscience continue to live every day and watch these numbers go up,” Lloyd continued, referring to the climbing death toll in Gaza, which rose above 10,000 this week.

As demonstrators sat on the floor, pro-Palestinian posters lined the walls. Lloyd said the demonstrators had been there since around 10:30 a.m. As offices closed at 6 p.m., police officers made repeated requests that people leave.

“It’s your decision, we gave you many chances,” said an officer who was captured on the livestream. “You could leave free, or you could leave with a court case.” 

After demonstrators refused, officers placed all of them under arrest. 

-- Published with reporting by CTV's Luca Caruso-Moro

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