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Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers in Nakba Day protests

May 15, 2012 |  8:08 am

JERUSALEM -- Dozens of Palestinians were injured Tuesday in clashes with Israeli soldiers during the annual Nakba Day demonstrations held in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip to mark the 1948 displacement of 800,000 Arabs during Israel’s founding.

Thousands of Palestinians turned out to protest in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza City and other cities to mark the nakba -- Arabic for catastrophe. Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, but clashes erupted between rock-throwing youths and Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in East Jerusalem, in Hebron, and outside the Ofer prison facility near Ramallah.

Palestinian officials said more than 80 people were treated for mostly minor injuries caused by rubber bullets and tear-gas inhalation.

Despite the pockets of violence, the day passed far more calmly than last year, when 12 protesters were shot to death by Israeli and Lebanese security guards when they tried to storm across Israel’s tightly controlled northern border from Lebanon and Syria.

“This year was relatively quiet,” said Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Fewer than half a dozen protesters were arrested, he said.

The mood this year was slightly buoyed by Monday’s deal to end a 28-day hunger strike by 1,600 Palestinian prisoners. Many Palestinians viewed the concessions promised by Israel to improve jail conditions and prisoner rights as a victory.

During speeches and rallies, the focus remained largely on Palestinian statehood and the right of those displaced in 1948 to return to their homes.

In Ramallah, thousands marched from the grave of former Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat to the city center, waving Palestinian flags, banners with the names of villages they fled, and keys, a symbol of what the Palestinians consider their right of return to the lost land.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh participated in a sports marathon to mark the day.


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-- Edmund Sanders

Maher Abukhater in Ramallah and Rushi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.

Photo: Palestinians take cover from rubber bullets shot by Israeli border policemen during clashes at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on Tuesday. Credit: Oliver Weiken / European Pressphoto Agency