Oxford University Gaza protest sees 16 arrested

Sixteen protesters have been arrested after a University of Oxford building was locked down due to an occupation by a pro-Palestinian group.

Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) started a sit-in at university offices on Wellington Square at 08:00 BST, demanding a meeting over its policies relating to the Israel-Gaza conflict

The university accused them of “threatening and violent actions”.

Police said 16 people had been detained on suspicion of aggravated trespass.

It added that one of the 16 had also been arrested on suspicion of common assault.

BBC Radio Oxford reporter Phil Mercer-Kelly, who was at the scene, said hundreds of people were outside the building, being prevented by police from entering.

He added there had been a “big movement” as police forced a group of people back to Little Clarendon Street to allow police vans to leave.

Protesters had gained access to a private office inside the building, and hung a Palestinian flag out of a window alongside a list of their demands.

In a statement, Thames Valley Police said: “Elements of this protest sought to obstruct the removal of the persons arrested.”

The statement added that police were still managing an on-going peaceful protest in the city.

A spokesperson for OX4P said: “Today, Oxford students staged a peaceful sit-in to demand that the university meet with us after two weeks of non-response.

“Instead of engaging in dialogue with her students, the vice chancellor chose to evacuate the building, place it on lockdown, and call the police to make arrests.

“We demand the administration meet with us to negotiate immediately.”

The university said the temporary occupation of the building had caused “significant distress” to staff.

In a statement it said: “Contrary to claims by OA4P, this was not a ‘peaceful sit-in’, but a violent action designed to escalate tensions.

“It is clear that the actions of some of the protesters involved in the encampment have created a deeply intimidating environment for many members of our community, including our Jewish students and staff and members of the local Jewish community.”

It insisted the university’s senior leadership was “horrified by the suffering of people in Gaza, and the taking of hostages on 7th October” and said there was “no place for intolerance at Oxford”.

On 6 May, so-called “liberated zones” were set up at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History and King’s College, Cambridge.

The demonstrators called for the universities to cut financial ties with Israel following its offensive in Gaza.

More than 33,000 people have been killed in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry there has said, the majority of them civilians.

Israel rejects accusations that it is engaging in genocidal acts in its campaign in Gaza, and has insisted it has the right to defend itself following the armed incursion by Hamas on 7 October.

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