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Police enter Columbia University as pro-Palestinian protesters occupy hall

Police officers have entered the grounds of New York’s Columbia University in an apparent effort to disperse pro-Palestinian protesters who have taken over a campus building.

Live television images showed police entering the elite campus in upper Manhattan, which has been the focal point of student protests that have spread to dozens of schools across the US expressing opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza.

“We’re clearing it out” police in a riot unit yelled as they marched up to the barricaded entrance to the building, the Reuters news agency reported.

Students on campus watching the operationg jeered “shame! shame!” in response.

Earlier on Tuesday Columbia University officials had threatened academic expulsion of the students who seized Hamilton Hall.

The New York Police Department received a notice from Columbia authorising officers to take action, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

The occupation began overnight when protesters broke windows, stormed inside and unfurled a banner reading “Hind’s Hall,” symbolically renaming the building for a 6-year-old Palestinian child killed in Gaza by the Israeli military.

“Walk away from this situation now and continue your advocacy through other means,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams advised the Columbia protesters on Tuesday afternoon. “This must end now.”

Outside the eight-story building – the site of various student occupations on the campus dating back to the 1960s – protesters blocked the entrance with tables, linked arms to form a barricade and chanted pro-Palestinian slogans.

At an evening news briefing held a few hours before police entered Columbia, Mayor Eric Adams and city police officials said the Hamilton Hall takeover was instigated by “outside agitators” who lack any affiliation with Columbia and are known to law enforcement for provoking lawlessness.

Police said they based their conclusions in part on escalating tactics in the occupation, including vandalism, use of barricades to block entrances and destruction of security cameras.

Adams suggested some of the student protesters were not fully aware of “external actors” in their midst.

“We cannot and will not allow what should be a peaceful gathering to turn into a violent spectacle that serves no purpose. We cannot wait until this situation becomes even more serious. This must end now,” the mayor said.

One of the student leaders of the protest, Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian scholar attending Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs on a student visa, disputed assertions that outsiders had initiated the occupation.

“They’re students,” he told Reuters.

More than 1,000 protesters have been arrested over the last two weeks on campuses in states including Texas, Utah, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Connecticut, Louisiana, California and New Jersey, some after violent clashes with police in riot gear.

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