Gaza protest disrupts Sweden parliament debate

Smoke rises from a tower after it was hit by Israeli air strikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City May 12, 2021. (Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / REUTERS)

Protesters denouncing Israel’s offensive in Gaza disrupted a foreign policy debate in Sweden’s parliament on Wednesday, as the country’s foreign minister reiterated support for Israel’s right to self-defence against Hamas.

Security guards escorted a woman out of the public gallery after she shouted that Israel “was committing genocide”, as Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom presented the government’s foreign policy declaration to parliament.

“Sweden supports Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against Hamas in accordance with international law,” Billstrom said before being interrupted.

He added that “in light of the catastrophic situation in Gaza, the government believes that a ceasefire is necessary for humanitarian reasons.”

Protesters started to chant as members of parliament began debating the country’s support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Police told AFP that six people were detained by security guards, and one of those had then been arrested suspected of “violent resistance.”

A small group of protesters also gathered outside the parliament.

In late January, Sweden put payments to UNRWA on hold following allegations that staff members at the agency had a role in the October 7 attack by Hamas.

The United Nations has announced the creation of an independent panel to assess UNRWA following the claims.

The Hamas attack that sparked the war resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

At least 28,576 people have been killed in Israel’s subsequent assault on Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

During his policy declaration, Billstrom also said that Sweden’s number one priority would be “support for Ukraine” in its fight against Russia.

“Sweden will continue to support Ukraine as long as needed — politically, humanitarian, militarily and economically,” Billstrom said.