Berlin police clear pro-Palestinian camp from parliament lawn

By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin police on Friday began clearing a pro-Palestinian camp set up in front of the German parliament by activists demanding the government stop arms exports to Israel and end what they say is the criminalization of the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Police dismantled tents, forcibly removed protesters and blocked the surrounding area to stop others arriving.

The action followed clashes between demonstrators and police on U.S. campuses and a blockade at Paris's Sciences Po university, part of international protests to decry Israel's military campaign in Gaza and Western support for Israel.

The Berlin camp 'Besetzung Gegen Besatzung' - 'Occupy Against Occupation' - began on April 8, coinciding with the start of International Court of Justice hearings in Nicaragua's case against Germany for providing military aid to Israel.

"The idea was to draw attention to that and‮ ‬... to the German complicity and active enabling of the Israeli genocide in Gaza," the camp organizer, Jara Nassar, told Reuters.

Israel strongly denies accusations that its offensive in Gaza, which aims to destroy the Palestinian militant group Hamas, constitutes a genocide.

Nassar and a dozen protesters sat on the ground, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and songs as police with loudspeakers called on them to leave.

"We look at what is happening in the U.S. ... with admiration. There is no reason to believe we should stop now," said Udi Raz, a PhD student at Berlin's Free University and a member of the Jewish Voice association.

Raz, who wore a Jewish kippah with the Palestinian flag colours and held his phone in a live social media broadcast of the clearance, said Jewish activists had joined the camp and held a candle-lit Passover dinner there this week.

Police said the prohibition order for the camp, which had been granted authorisation at the start of the protest, was due to repeated violations committed by some protesters, including the use of unconstitutional symbols and forbidden slogans.

"Protection of gatherings cannot be guaranteed at this point because public safety and order are significantly at risk," police spokesperson Anja Dierschkesaid said, adding tents had to be moved daily under local regulations to maintain the lawn.

"For the German government, grass matters more than the lives of more than 40,000 innocent people in Gaza murdered by the Israeli military," Raz said.

(Additional reporting by Annegret Hilse; Editing by Rachel More and Gareth Jones)