Koreans are divided over the ongoing military conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, with people expressing differing views on the root cause of Hamas' attack and which side is responsible for the current violence in the Middle East.
On Sunday afternoon, around 200 people gathered in the streets of central Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood, calling for an end to Israel's military action, in a rally organized by the Workers' Solidarity Youth Group. It was the second pro-Palestine protest organized by the progressive youth group after the first one at Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul, last Wednesday.
"Today's rally was organized together with Palestinian residents living in Korea, and joined by Korean and foreign residents who support Palestine in its fight against Israel," Park Hye-shin, a member of the activist group, told The Korea Times.
The participants marched down the street chanting "Free Palestine!" and demanding the Israeli government stop its military action in the Gaza Strip.
Over the past week, the group has been putting up posters carrying statements supporting Palestine at university campuses across Seoul, in what Park described as "showing solidarity for Palestinians who have suffered for decades from Israeli apartheid."
"As college students, we should not turn a blind eye to the sufferings of Palestinians, considering our own nation's painful history of being a victim of colonial occupation," she said.
The posters, on display at over a dozen campuses in Seoul including Seoul National University, Korea University, Yonsei University, Chung-Ang University and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, have sparked debates among college students.
"I got the impression that the poster is justifying Hamas' terrorist attacks. I've seen videos of inhumane killings of (Israeli) civilians by Hamas, with many being taken hostage," said Sim Ga-eun, a senior at Chung-Ang University studying social welfare.
"It doesn't seem appropriate to take sides when both parties seem to be responsible for the ongoing war," she added.
Im Joo-young, a student at Ewha Womans University majoring in political science and international relations, said the posters help raise awareness about wartime atrocities, an issue that every student should care about.
"Photos and videos of terrible civilian massacres are being displayed on social media without any filtering and Israel is suspected of using white phosphorus," Im said. "Regardless of why the conflict began in the first place, I think the situation has turned into a heinous war without any protection for civilians."
Amid continuing debates here over the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Korea-Israel Friendship Association, consisting primarily of scholars and led by former Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea, is planning to hold a press briefing to show support for the Jewish state.
The association had initially planned to hold a press event on Friday afternoon at Gwanghwamun attended by Israeli Ambassador to Korea Akiva Tor and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Philip Goldberg.
But the organizers called off the event just hours before the scheduled time due to "unexpected circumstances," as cited in a statement issued by the Israeli Embassy.
It is said the organizers feared potential threats targeting the pro-Israel press conference after Hamas declared Oct. 13 as the "Day of Rage," which spurred mass rallies largely by Muslims around the world in support of Palestinians.
An official at the Israeli Embassy said Sunday that the press conference has not been canceled entirely, and may be rescheduled for this week.
Since Hamas' surprise cross-border attack on Oct. 7, the military conflict between the two sides has escalated into a violent war. The combined death toll has surpassed 3,000 as of Sunday, and the figure is expected to rise as the Israeli military is preparing for a major ground invasion of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.