OLICE had to keep rival protesters apart as hundreds took to the streets in Southampton over the escalating crisis in war-torn Gaza.

Officers were forced to step in as tempers flared when far-right activists attempted to confront pro-Palestinian marchers.

Waving placards demanding an end to the violence that has claimed the lives of 1,000 in Gaza, the protesters gathered in East Park before marching to the BBC studios in Havelock Road.

The demonstration, the third of its kind in the city in the past fortnight, was supposed to have started at the city’s Cenotaph before moving through the centre.

But a rival demonstration by about 20 members of the far-right English Defence League (EDL), chanting pro-Israeli slogans and unfurling a Star of David flag, forced the protesters to move from Watts Park across Above Bar Street to East Park.

Some of the EDL claimed to be from Southampton but others were waving flags from its ‘Kent division’.

They heckled the pro-Palestine protesters with obscene language and offensive comments as the names of the children killed in Gaza were read out – and while the protesters walked past East Park in Cumberland Place.

Organisers of the demonstration pleaded with those gathering not to be baited into a fight, reminding them they were marching for peace.

The Southampton demonstrators were joining protesters across the UK calling for an end to Israel’s bombing of Gaza, a Palestinian region on the Mediterranean Sea.

Protest organiser Lewis Abdullah Cattel, from the Grass Roots Muslim Movement, said: “We are hoping we can unite everyone behind the cause.

“What’s happening in Gaza has escalated and we feel it’s one of the greatest humanitarian causes in our age.

“It has been for a long time but the current bombardment of Gaza has made it come out into public again.

“We thought this was the best time to make a concerted effort to bring the situation of Gaza to an end.”

A Hampshire police spokeswoman said that officers had investigated an incident of disorder during the march and arrested a 46-year-old man from Fareham, who was later given a caution for common assault.

The march came as the death toll in Gaza reached 1,000. Thirty-nine Israelis have died.

Israel launched its military offensive on July 8, on the grounds of stopping Islamic resistance movement Hamas firing rockets at it.