Since early yesterday morning (19th May), four activists have been occupying the roof of an Elbit Systems subsidiary in Leicester. They believe the UAV Tactical Systems plant in Leicester, a joint venture between Elbit and Thales, assembles drones which are destined for use by the Israeli Defence Force in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, and thus implicated in war crimes. The protesters have taken direct action to halt work at the plant by barricading the building, taking control of the roof, damaging the premises and spraying blood-red paint over the building.

At the request of the police, a fire engine attended and negotiators were hoisted up to speak with the group, but after ensuring the safety of activists the firemen refused to aid any further police operation and left the scene. The Leicester Fire Brigade Union later issued a statement standing in solidarity with Palestine and the right to protest.

The action was the first at this particular site, although Palestine Action have carried out dozens of actions against Elbit Systems, the Israeli arms manufacturer which controls ten sites across the UK. Five activists were due to appear at Staffordshire Crown Court this week, but legal wrangles have postponed the case yet again. Elbit has never yet appeared in court to defend the legality of their business and challenge the claims of protesters. The company has been repeatedly contacted for comment but has not responded.

The occupation at UAV Tactical Systems continues into a second day and weapons production is halted, as Israel continues to bomb Gaza in the latest grim escalation of their repression of the Palestinian people.

More info on the campaign at Palestine Action

Fire Brigade Union statement:

“Members were called to an incident in Leicester involving protesters on the roof of a commercial premises that is alleged to manufacture drones destined for use by the Israeli military. Originally the fire service was requested to attend to assure the safety of a group of people on a roof.

“The Fire Brigades Union were made aware that the protesters were representing the Palestinian solidarity group Palestine Action. Union Officials immediately reminded senior managers that as firefighters, we are, and remain, a proud humanitarian service and our role does not involve law enforcement.

Once the safety of those involved had been confirmed, Fire Brigades Union members withdrew from the incident. Leicestershire Brigade chair, Graham Vaux added that “the Fire Brigades Union stand in support of Palestinian solidarity and the right to protest.”

Fire Service Management statement:

“We attended in the early hours of the 19 May and provided safety advice to the protesters and also used an Aerial Ladder Platform (ALP) to transport a police negotiator onto the roof.”

“Our primary attendance was to ensure the safety of all individuals involved, contributing to our purpose of Safer People, Safer Places. Once this had been completed, our permanent attendance was no longer necessary and crews left the scene for other duties. In liaison with the Police we re-attended the incident at around 19:00hrs and remained on scene overnight to support the ongoing operation.”

“Fire crews have and will continue to provide operational expertise and equipment to assist the Police in a peaceful resolution of the incident – this has and will continue to be done in a neutral manner.”