Thousands took to the streets of Marseille in the south of France on Sunday to show their support for Israel, the first such demonstration in the country since the start of the recent fighting in Gaza, organizers said.

Some 2,000 pro-Israeli demonstrators, carrying French and Israeli flags, were separated by riot police from a few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters chanting anti-Israeli slogans in Marseille's Old Port in the center of the Mediterranean city.

"We are here to show our solidarity with Israel, which has been attacked and has a right to defend itself," William Labi, head of the body governing Jewish congregations in Marseille, told Reuters. The protest was also organized by the community's umbrella group CRIF.

Pro-Palestinian protesters clashed with police in central Paris on Saturday when thousands of protesters defied a ban by French authorities to rally against Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. Police made about 70 arrests.

In Marseille, some 2,000 people had marched peacefully on Saturday in an authorised pro-Palestinian demonstration.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East have in the past added to tensions between the two communities.

Israel began its offensive earlier this month, citing a surge in rocket attacks launched from Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

Some 1,031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, have been killed in the 20-day conflict. Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire out of the Mediterranean enclave.

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