Washington (CNN) — The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, arrested dozens of people Wednesday after a skirmish between officers and a group that law enforcement had cleared from a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus Wednesday, a police source told CNN.

The action took place hours before Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and GW President Ellen Granberg were set to testify before Congress on the response to the encampment. After police cleared the encampment, House Oversight Chair James Comer announced Wednesday morning the hearing was canceled.

“Therefore, this morning, working closely with the GW administration and police, MPD moved to disperse the demonstrators from the GW campus and surrounding streets,” police said.

Police said in a statement they had “worked to pursue non-arrest methods to deescalate tensions” to protect students and the GW campus, but there has been a “gradual escalation in the volatility of the protest.”

Police said the arrests were for assault on a police officer and unlawful entry.

“Following the Metropolitan Police Department finally clearing out the unlawful encampment on GW’s campus, I am very pleased to announce that the hearing with DC Mayor Bowser has been canceled,” Comer announced on X.

GW is one of a number of schools across the country at which pro-Palestinian protesters have set up camp and demonstrated against Israel’s war in Gaza and US support for the country.

GW was notified that police were going to clear the protest encampment when GW Police Department’s chief got a call from MPD at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to a source with knowledge of the school and police communications.

The encampment was set up about two weeks ago and has drawn criticism from Granberg, who said it was “unauthorized,” disrupted normal academic activities and created safety concerns.

“We can and will enforce the time, place, and manner restrictions that continue to govern activities on our campus,” she said last month.

Protester says he is ‘angry’

The police source said that MPD has been planning to clear the protesters at this time since Monday and the choice to clear the protest encampment Wednesday had nothing to do with the congressional hearing. But when pressed on the timing ahead of the hearing, the source conceded the timing was noteworthy.

Police arrested between 30 and 40 protesters, the source said. MPD spokesperson Tom Lynch said the police department “will continue to be supportive of universities or other private entities who need assistance.”

Lynch said police used pepper spray near the university – but not on campus – in relation to clearing the protesters.

Ahmed El Masry, a demonstrator at the GW encampment, said he left the encampment at about 2 a.m. but rushed back about two hours later when he heard police were working to clear the space. He said that when he arrived, he found “over 20” police cars and said, “it looked like a warzone.”

“I come back at 4, and the whole camp is gone, and I’m seeing people that I protested with … being rounded up in vans,” he said.

“I’m angry, like we’ve been here peacefully protesting,” he said. “This was our camp… It became a community, like we were here speaking up for something noble.

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