California police raze the pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA and arrest protesters

By Lisa Richwine and Omar Younis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Hundreds of helmeted police stormed the site of a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of California, Los Angeles early on Thursday, arresting unruly demonstrators and setting up camp.

The early morning police crackdown at UCLA marked the latest flashpoint in rising tensions on U.S. college campuses, where protests against Israel's war in Gaza have led to clashes between students and with law enforcement.

Before moving in, the police made repeated loudspeaker announcements calling on demonstrators to clear the protest zone, which occupied a central square the size of a football field.

“If you fail to leave the camp and remain in the camp or in unauthorized tents or buildings, you are violating the law and those who choose to remain could face sanctions,” UCLA said in an early morning warning before the police approached the camp.

After gathering on campus for hours, officers eventually marched through the area in baton-wielding lines as protesters – some wearing white helmets – linked arms and tried to block their advance.

Live television footage showed officers dismantling tents and clearing the camp as arrested protesters sat with their hands tied behind their backs with cable ties.

In recent days, students have gathered or set up camps at dozens of schools, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and urging schools to divest from companies that support the Israeli government. Many schools, including Columbia University in New York City, have called police to quell the protests.

Clashes on campus

At UCLA, dozens of loud explosions were heard during the clash, caused by stun grenades or stun grenades fired by police as they entered the camp in the early morning hours.

Protesters, some carrying makeshift shields and umbrellas, tried to block the officers' advance through their sheer numbers while chanting “Push them back” and flashing bright lights in the officers' eyes.

Others on the opposite side of the camp quickly gave up and were seen walking away under police escort with their hands hanging over their heads.

The police operation began around sunset on Wednesday when officers in tactical gear began streaming onto the UCLA campus and taking positions next to a tent complex occupied by throngs of protesters.

Local television station KABC-TV estimated 300 to 500 protesters hunkered down in the camp, many wearing traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, while around 2,000 others had gathered outside the barricades in support.

Those numbers fell on Thursday as protesters left the camp and were arrested.

A day after the university declared the camp unlawful, some of the demonstrators were seen wearing hard hats, goggles and respirators in anticipation of the siege.

The protests follow the deadly attack by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel on October 7, which killed 1,200 people and took dozens hostage, and a subsequent Israeli offensive that killed about 34,000 people and created a humanitarian crisis were triggered.

The demonstrations at UCLA and other campuses were met with counter-protesters who accused them of fomenting anti-Jewish hatred. The pro-Palestinian side, including some Jews who oppose Israeli actions in Gaza, say they are being unfairly branded anti-Semitic for criticizing the Israeli government and expressing support for human rights.

In the run-up to the US presidential election in November, the issue has taken on political undertones. Republicans accused some university administrators of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitic rhetoric and harassment.

UCLA's action came a day after a violent clash

UCLA canceled classes for the day on Wednesday after a violent clash between residents of the camp and a group of masked counter-protesters who launched a surprise attack on the tent city late Tuesday night.

Residents of the camp set up last week had remained mostly peaceful before the melee, which saw both sides exchange blows and pepper spray each other.

Members of the pro-Palestinian group said they were pelted with fireworks and beaten with bats and sticks. University officials blamed “instigators” for the disruption and announced an investigation.

The confrontation lasted two to three hours until early Wednesday morning before police restored order. A spokesman for California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom later criticized campus law enforcement's “limited and delayed response” to the riots as “unacceptable.”

As heavily expanded police entered the campus Wednesday evening to clear the encampment, some of the protesters could be heard shouting at them: “Where were you yesterday?”

Taylor Gee, a 30-year-old pro-Palestinian protester and UCLA law student, said the police operation was “particularly upsetting” for many protesters given the slow police response the night before.

“For them to come out the next night to remove us from the camp makes no sense, but it also makes all the sense in the world.”

UCLA officials said the campus, which has nearly 52,000 students, will remain closed except for limited operations on Thursday and Friday.

The police operation at UCLA came after New York City police on Tuesday arrested pro-Palestinian activists who occupied a building at Columbia University and removed a tent city from the Ivy League school's campus.

Police arrested a total of about 300 people at Columbia and City College of New York, Mayor Eric Adams said. Many of those arrested were charged with trespassing and criminal coercion.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Omar Younis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks, Nichola Groom, Maria Tsvetkova, David Swanson, Jonathan Allen, Brendan O'Brien, Rich McKay and Dan Trotta; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles Angeles; editing by Daniel Wallis, Caitlin Webber, Lincoln Feast, Michael Perry and Alex Richardson)

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