Moroccans, angry at attacks on Gaza, demand halt to ties with Israel

RABAT (Reuters) – Moroccans waving Palestinian flags took to the streets of the capital Rabat on Sunday calling on the government to cut ties with Israel in protest against continued Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip which have killed thousands of civilians.

Protests against Israel’s war in Gaza have repeatedly drawn thousands of people in Morocco since the conflict began two months ago, mostly led by pan-Arab and Islamist groups.

Sunday’s march by about 3,000 protesters was the first to have been led by the PJD, Morocco’s biggest Islamist party which led the elected government from 2011 until 2021, a sign the movement is growing more vocal in opposition.

Protesters chanted “Palestine is not for sale”, “Resistance go ahead to victory and liberation” and “the people want an end to normalisation”, referring to the policy of Morocco and other Arab states normalising ties with Israel.

Israel vowed to annihilate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, after Hamas militants burst across the fence on Oct. 7 and went on a rampage through Israeli towns, gunning down families in their homes, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages.

Since then, Gaza’s health authorities say at least 17,700 people have been confirmed killed in Israeli strikes, with thousands more missing and presumed dead under the rubble.

Morocco agreed to strengthen ties with Israel in 2020, under a deal brokered by the U.S. administration under then President Donald Trump that also included Washington recognising Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Despite their policy of normalising ties with Israel, Moroccan authorities have said they continue to back the creation of a Palestinian state and have urged a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the protection of all civilians there.

Islamist and leftist parties and groups in Morocco have increasingly spoken out against the normalisation policy since the start of the war in Gaza on Oct. 7.

Protesters on Sunday also called for a boycott of brands they accuse of supporting Israel.

“We call on Morocco to end diplomatic relations with Israel, a country that killed children and women in Gaza and destroyed hospitals in full brutality,” said Ahmed El Yandouzi, as he was queuing to sign a petition with a Palestinian scarf around his neck.

Although Morocco and Israel have not yet completed the process of setting up full embassies in each other’s countries as they agreed to do, they have moved closer together, signing a defence cooperation pact.

The PJD was in office when Morocco agreed the normalisation deal with Israel, with its then leader Saad Dine El Otmani signing it as prime minister, but the policy was ultimately set by King Mohammed, who sets overall strategy.

The new PJD leader, Abdelilah Benkirane, has said signing the agreement was a mistake.

The royal court has previously asked the PJD to stop criticising Morocco’s ties with Israel.

(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; editing by Angus McDowall and Nick Macfie)