13 striking Preston pictures showing Palestinian 'solidarity march' through the city centre

It is estimated that more than 3,000 people took to the streets of Preston on Sunday afternoon for a march to show solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza - and to call for an immediate ceasefire in the military operation being mounted in the territory by Israel.

The hour-long procession set out from the Flag Market shortly after 1.30pm and wound its way through the city centre along routes including Lancaster Road, Fishergate and Lune Street. Green, red, black and white-coloured smoke canisters were let off during the march, causing the hues of the Palestinian flag to hover over Preston's main shopping area. A further hour of speeches then followed when those taking part - many of whom carried pro-Palestine banners - reassembled back at their starting point.

The estimated tally of marchers was provided by police to the event’s organisers, the Preston-based Children of the Ghetto group. The procession came a fortnight after a rally staged in the city centre under the same “Preston for Palestine” umbrella.

Former Preston city councillor Michael Lavalette, who helped arrange both events, told the Lancashire Post that the demonstrations would continue in a similar vein until bombs stopped falling over Gaza and guns fell silent in the strip.

After almost three weeks of an air campaign by Israel in response to the slaughter of more than 1,300 Israeli citizens by Hamas - the militant group that governs Gaza and which is a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK - the country expanded its ground operation in the densely-populated territory on Friday.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry said on Sunday that the death toll amongst Palestinians has now surpassed 8,000 - the majority of which it says are women and children.

Israel says that it is not targeting civilians, but has vowed to destroy Hamas for the atrocities committed within the country’s orders on 7th October - including the killing of 260 people at a music festival and the kidnap of more than 200 Israelis, the majority of whom are still being held in Gaza.

Speaking to the Post immediately after the march in Preston, Michael Lavalette said: “Whatever your perspective [on the broader Middle East situation] - whether you think that soldiers on either side are legitimate targets or not - you can't possibly think that women, children and civilian men in this number, or anything like it, are appropriate targets.

“Every day, the pictures from Gaza are just getting worse and worse. We have to keep going until this stops - and I'm not giving up until [then].

“What was really pleasing [about the march] was the mix of communities that it drew from. We had a big turnout from Preston’s Muslim community, but it wasn't just a Muslim march - there were others there as well. There was also support from trade union branches and community organisations.”

Michael said that a vigil was being planned on the Flag Market next Saturday, during which the names of all the children known to have been killed in Gaza will be read out and attached to teddy bears, which will then be distributed to local youngsters. Another march in Preston is then pencilled in for the following weekend.

He believes that similar events that have been taking place up and down the country since the war broke out have had had an impact on the stance of the government and opposition politicians in the UK - with both the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and Labour opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer calling for humanitarian “pauses” in the fighting in order to allow aid into Gaza and to get hostages out.

That falls far short of the full ceasefire that Michael and those who marched through Preston on Sunday want, but he says that Western governments would be “turning even more of a blind eye” to the situation if their populations had not come out in such numbers to condemn the attacks on Gaza.

He also warns of the “huge disconnect” that he says many national politicians have opened up between themselves and “large communities in our country” by not speaking out more strongly over the conflict - although 95 MPs have now signed a so-called “early day motion” on the subject in the Commons. That calls on the government “to urgently press all parties to agree to an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities, to ensure the immediate, unconditional release of the Israeli hostages, to end to the total siege of Gaza and allow for unfettered access of medical supplies, food, fuel electricity and water, to guarantee that international humanitarian law is upheld and that civilians are protected in accordance with those laws”.