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Drexel threatens to clear encampment as arrests linked to Israel-Hamas war protests exceed 3,000

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Drexel University in Philadelphia threatened to clear an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters on Monday as arrests linked to campus demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war surpassed the 3,000 mark nationwide.

Drexel President John Fry said the encampment had disrupted campus life and “cannot be allowed to remain in place.” Fry called on protesters to leave immediately but said in a statement Monday night that he had authorized “all necessary steps to clear the encampment safely.” He did not say when that might happen.

Classes at Drexel were held virtually on Monday as police kept watch over the demonstration on the school’s Korman Quad. Many Drexel employees were told to work from home.

Students and others have set up tent encampments on campuses around the country to press colleges to cut financial ties with Israel. Tensions over the war have been high on campuses since the fall but demonstrations spread quickly following an April 18 police crackdown on an encampment at Columbia University.

More than 3,000 people have been arrested on U.S. campuses over the past month. Campuses have been calmer recently, with fewer arrests, as students leave for summer break. Still, colleges have been vigilant for disruptions to commencement ceremonies.

At Drexel, which has about 22,000 students, Fry said protesters “have created a hostile, confrontational environment by subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech and by issuing several ‘demands’ that have unacceptably targeted individual members of our faculty and professional staff” as well as Jewish groups on campus. He previously threatened disciplinary action against Drexel students participating in the protest.

The Drexel protesters’ demands ranged from the university administration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and divesting from companies that do business with Israel, to abolition of the Drexel police department and termination of the school’s chapter of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, and another Jewish campus group, Chabad.

The Drexel Palestine Coalition had no immediate response to Fry’s ultimatum. The protest organizers said on Instagram in response to an earlier statement from Fry that “it is slander to accuse the encampment of ‘hateful’ or ‘intimidating’ actions when we have done neither.” The group accused Drexel and city police of harassment and intimidation. A pro-Palestinian group of faculty and staff also blasted Fry on Monday for shuttering campus facilities and said the encampment was “not disruptive to learning.”

Drexel planned a “phased return” to normal operations on Tuesday, with labs and some other classes to be held in person and lecture classes to stay remote.

Elsewhere, graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, went on strike Monday as part of a rolling, systemwide protest over how administrators have responded to pro-Palestinian encampments, including arrests of protesters at the Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine campuses.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, meanwhile, declined to charge four University of Pennsylvania protesters who were among 19 arrested Friday night, citing a lack of evidence submitted by campus police. Krasner’s office approved misdemeanor charges against three others. The remaining 12 arrested Friday night were given citations for failing to disperse.

Penn’s main commencement ceremony was held Monday under tightened security and a ban on flags and signs. There were no disruptions.

But dozens of students walked out of Yale University’s commencement ceremony, some waving Palestinian flags. Yale said in a prepared statement that “a number of graduating students chose to peacefully walk out during the ceremony. University staff helped guide these individuals to an area outside the event space, and the ceremony continued as scheduled.”

Wesleyan University in Connecticut said it had reached agreement with student protesters to review possible divestment, with meetings scheduled for later this month and in the fall. Wesleyan President Michael Roth announced the deal over the weekend and disclosed that 1.7% of Wesleyan’s endowment was invested in aerospace and defense businesses, but that none were directly involved in the manufacture of weapons.

As part of the agreement, Wesleyan protesters cleared their encampment on Monday, according to a school spokesperson.

The Associated Press has recorded at least 82 incidents since April 18 where arrests were made at campus protests across the U.S. At least 3,025 people have been arrested on the campuses of 61 colleges and universities. The figures are based on AP reporting and statements from universities and law enforcement agencies.

The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, while Israel’s military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

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Associated Press reporters Michael Hill in Albany, New York, Janie Har in San Francisco, Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, and Christopher L. Keller in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this story.

By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
Associated Press

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