NEW YORK CITY (WABC) — Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters have gathered ahead of one of New York City’s biggest holiday traditions on Wednesday night — the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree.
Street closures are in effect and security has already been stepped up for the annual New York City holiday tradition.
The protests were expected, but the NYPD still encouraged families to come out, saying they wouldn’t allow any demonstrations to disrupt the celebration.
This 80-foot-tall Norway spruce will be lit for the holiday season, and tens of thousands of people are expected to come watch and kick off the holiday season.
That means many people will be in Midtown so the NYPD is prepared for the increased possibility of security threats.
Officials say there is a precedent when it comes to terrorist activity and holiday-related events or mass gatherings.
According to an NYPD threat assessment obtained by ABC News, “The U.S. continues to face a heightened and dynamic risk environment from a variety of extremists amid the ongoing Israel-Hams conflict and malicious actors may view mass gatherings, iconic locations and high-profile events as targets of opportunity during the holiday season.”
Planned protests call for demonstrators to “flood the tree lighting in support of Gaza.”
“We allow people to exercise their first amendment, but by no means do we allow anyone to come out here to do hate, crime or assault,” said NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell.
Street closures around Rockefeller Center also went into effect Wednesday. Cars will not be permitted on streets around Rockefeller Center between 11 a.m. and 12 a.m. every day, opening up the cross streets on East 51st and 48th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues to pedestrians to view the tree and enjoy the other festive sites this holiday season.
Those changes will remain in effect through New Year’s Day.
Fifth Avenue will also be fully open to pedestrians between 48th and 59th on the first three Sundays in December.
Again, given the amount of people expected in the area Wednesday and throughout the season, the NYPD still says there’s no specific or credible threat, but it’s important to be vigilant.
Police say after protesters were arrested at the Thanksgiving Day parade last week, they’re prepared for possible disruptions.
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