NSW Police has defended the removal of a protester waving an Israeli flag at a pro-Palestine rally on Monday, saying it was for “his own safety”.
About 1000 protesters flocked to Sydney’s Town Hall on Monday evening for a Free Palestine rally in the wake of reignited violence between Palestine and Israel.
The crowd walked from the Town Hall to the Sydney Opera House, which had been lit up in blue and white in a show of solidarity with Israel.
Assistant Commissioner Tony Cooke said police became aware of the planned protest earlier on Monday and determined it would be best to allow the rally to proceed.
“(We were able) to prevent the risk of conflict, to prevent the risk of offences, disturbances to the public right throughout the city,” Mr Cooke said.
“This is clearly a very emotive issue across communities … (and) we do not expect people to bring conflict from other places to the streets of Sydney.”
During the protest a man, who has since been identified as father of two Mark Spiro, was arrested by police after he was spotted waving an Israeli flag.
Mr Spiro was told by officers that he was being removed for “breaching the peace” and later told Sky News that he felt the officers’ actions were “excessive”.
On Tuesday, Mr Cooke clarified that Mr Spiro had been removed from the protest as his presence “could have caused significant risk to him and others”.
“I understand his view … (but) it was necessary,” he said.
“In the circumstances the best option for us was to take the actions we did.”
Mr Cooke said police had been and would continue to work with the community to “prevent issues of conflict and risks of violence”.
This comes after a woman was struck in the face by a firework in Punchbowl about 10pm, leading police to disperse a nearby crowd of 30-40 people.
“I’m very disappointed in the strongest possible terms that people … utilised flares,” Mr Cooke said.
“The entire rally was covered by CCTV … (and we are) attempting to identify people who committed offences.”
Mr Cooke said police were not taking sides over the “strongly emotive” issue.
“People should also respect the fact that we are a multicultural and multi-faith community and need people to respect each other’s rights and observations,” Mr Cooke said.
“Very clearly the police activities last night were not about supporting or condoning or facilitating, it was about providing a safe environment.”
The crowd dispersed after about three hours.
Police have reassured Mr Spiros, who was released after his initial arrest, that he will be able to collect his flag.