WASHINGTON - Hundreds were arrested Wednesday after pro-Palestinian protests broke out on Capitol Hill, with demonstrators flooding into the Cannon House Office Building and large crowds gathering with flags and signs around the Capitol complex.
The Cannon House Office Building holds several House Committee and congressional offices. By 2:30 p.m., its rotunda was full of protestors singing and chanting "ceasefire now" and "free Palestine."
U.S. Capitol Police put out an alert about the demonstrations, saying the activity was not allowed inside Congressional buildings. They worked for hours to clear the crowd that had grown inside. Police say they arrested about 300 people in total.
The detained protesters were lined up outside the building and shuttled to a temporary holding area in the Capitol complex. Capitol Police say demonstrators inside the Cannon Rotunda will be charged with illegally protesting inside a House Office Building.
They say among the arrests, three people were charged with assault on a police officer during processing.
USCP monitored the situation as more protesters gathered around the House side of the Capitol Complex through the afternoon and evening hours. For safety, they set up temporary rolling road closures and only allowed Capitol staff and employees to enter and exit in certain areas.
The protest began on the National Mall around noon and eventually made its way to the Cannon building, which is situated at Independence Ave. and New Jersey Ave. adjacent to the Capitol building.
Fencing went up overnight around parts of the U.S. Capitol ahead of the protest organized by the group Jewish Voice for Peace but the demonstrators were able to work their way into the building and by 3 p.m., it was packed with JVP members in black t-shirts reading "Jews say ceasefire now!"
People rally in support of Palestinians in front of the White House in Washington, DC on October 16, 2023. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
JVP claimed on social media that at least 10,000 people were outside the Capitol while 500 made their way inside the rotunda, all there to "challenge the Israeli government's ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians."
After the demonstrations on Capitol Hill fizzled, another popped up in the evening hours outside the Israeli Embassy in Northwest. Barriers surrounded the embassy and a line of police stood between it and the crowd pocked with the red, black, white and green of the Palestinian flag.
As the protests unfolded, President Joe Biden was in Israel. He flew to the embattled country Tuesday to begin a series of talks with Israeli, Jordanian, Egyptian and Palestinian leaders.
On Wednesday, Biden announced $100 million for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and the West Bank to help displaced and conflict-affected Palestinians as Israel has agreed to allow aid into the area — but with the explicit understanding that shipments and that aid should only go to civilians and not Hamas militants.
"Let me be clear. If Hamas diverts or steals the assistance, they will have demonstrated once again that they have no concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people," Biden said.
Israel quickly cut off the flow of food, fuel and water to the Gaza Strip after the deadly surprise attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 people. It's estimated that more than 2,800 Palestinians have been killed in retaliatory attacks and another 1,200 are missing — buried under rubble dead or alive.
Since the war began, the Biden administration has condemned Hamas and stood firmly with Israel, pledging continued support for the allied nation.
"Israel must again be a safe place for the Jewish people. And I promise you: We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that it will be," Biden said while speaking from Tel Aviv Wednesday. "My administration has been in close touch with your leadership from the first moments of this attack, and we are going to make sure we have — you have what you need to protect your people, to defend your nation."
But the president has also expressed support for Palestinians who do not back Hamas and signaled that the U.S. is seeking to help them as well.
US President Joe Biden joins Israel's Prime Minister for the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by MIRIAM ALSTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
"The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas," Biden wrote on X. "And Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people."
There have been several protests around the D.C. area in recent days as the war between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hamas continues.
More than 30 protesters were arrested in front of the White House on Monday and over the weekend, thousands of pro-Palestinian activists took to the streets of the nation's capital to advocate for a cease-fire between the warring groups.
Tensions here and abroad have only increased following a deadly rocket blast at a Gaza hospital Tuesday. The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 500 people were killed.
Hamas blamed the "horrific massacre" on the Israeli government while the Israeli government has blamed Islamic Jihad — a smaller, more radical Palestinian militant group that often works with Hamas.
As they met Wednesday, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that intelligence from the Department of Defense showed it was not likely a strike by the Israeli military and that it "appears as though it was done by the other team, not you."
As the president continues on his diplomatic mission through the Middle East, he has continued to advocate for a two-state solution.
"We must keep working for Israel’s greater integration with its neighbors. These attacks have only strengthened my commitment and determination and my will to get that done," he said.
Back on Capitol Hill, some Democratic lawmakers said they're standing in solidarity with those calling for a ceasefire.
Several representatives — including Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Cori Bush, D-Mo., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D_N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y. — signed onto a resolution
Without a speaker, many members of the House have been frustrated by the chamber’s inability to pass legislation, particularly in response to the war.