06:09 GMT +323 January 2020
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    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic trip to Australia was marred by controversy, after protesters decried him a ‘war criminal.’ The Sydney protests featured depictions of Netanyahu as Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, along with Palestinian and Hezbollah flags.

    A large banner, depicting Netanyahu with Hitler's iconic toothbrush mustache and the word "Fascist" written underneath, garnered attention as an estimated 650-1,000 demonstrators attempted to march on Netanyahu's hotel. Sydney police cut them off well short of their goal.

    The demonstration was organized by the Palestine Action Group, who describe themselves as an "organisation committed to supporting Palestine and opposing Israeli Apartheid. We… put pressure on those like the Australian Government who are complicit in Israel's ongoing genocide."

    "We are here to oppose Australia's support for Israel, for a racist apartheid nation," pro-Palestinian author and academic Randa Abdel-Fattah told AFP. "It's disgusting to see that some of our Australian leaders have rolled out the red carpet and welcomed a war criminal into Australia."

    Pro-Israel counter-protesters were also spotted, although police kept the groups separate.

    Prior to Netanyahu's arrival, about 60 prominent Australians in the worlds of business, academia, religion, and politics signed a letter protesting the Australian government's welcome of a man whose policies "provoke, intimidate and oppress" Palestinians.

    The protests have not succeeded in keeping Netanyahu from meeting with Australia's leadership, including prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and parliamentary opposition leader Bill Shorten.

    Netanyahu was originally scheduled to visit Australia in 2014, but postponed the trip. He is the first sitting prime minister of Israel to visit Australia. Australia-Israel relations made news recently when Australia was the sole country, besides Israel, to speak out against the December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories illegal.

    "We have so much in common – shared values, democracy, freedom, the rule of law," said Turnbull said at a news conference that kicked off the four-day visit. "Two great democracies, one very small in area, one vast, but each of us big-hearted, generous, committed to freedom."

    "Prime minister, you are so welcome here in Australia," he told Netanyahu.

    "We're celebrating 100 years of friendship between Australia and Israel… this visit will enable us to bring our countries even closer," Netanyahu replied. "I always remember, it was Australian light horse that liberated Beersheba, an old, old city in our history. We have been friends — extraordinary friends — ever since."

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    Tags:
    Israeli-Palestinian conflict, protest, Bill Shorten, Malcolm Turnbull, Benjamin Netanyahu, Sydney, Australia
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