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Palestinians and Israeli soldiers clash amid heightened tension

March 30, 2012 |  7:18 am

Land day
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as Israeli security troops remained on high alert throughout the country and along its borders for Land Day.

Land Day commemorates a 1976 mass demonstration protesting Israel's confiscation of Arab lands for building Jewish communities. Six protesters were killed in the rallies, now marked each year in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Clashes broke out at Qalandia checkpoint, where demonstrators burned tires and threw stones as they advanced towards the Israeli side. Israeli soldiers fired tear-gas and stun grenades and used a wide arsenal of riot-dispersal systems, including the foul-smelling "Skunk" and "Scream," a system that unleashes a high-frequency blast of sound. 

Violent encounters took place in several other West Bank locations including Bethlehem and Nablus, as well as at the border with Gaza. In advance of the tense day, Israel declared a general closure of the Palestinian territories, with exceptions allowed for humanitarian cases.

 In an effort to keep the calm in Jerusalem, Israeli police restricted access to the Muslim Friday prayers on the Temple Mount. Some of the young men barred from entering held a protest that turned into a confrontation with troops using riot-control gear and chasing demonstrators on horseback. Israeli media reported several arrests, including that of Palestinian politician Hatem Abdel Qader.

Protesters injured in clashes at several flashpoints received medical treatment, according to Palestinian sources. Among those reportedly injured at Qalandia was Palestinian lawmaker Moustafa Barghouti.

Adding to tensions this year was a Global March to Jerusalem, called by international Muslim, Arab and pro-Palestinian activists, who mobilized supporters to "march to Jerusalem" from neighboring countries on the same day.

Twice last spring, violence erupted as protesters from Lebanon and Syria breached the borders with Israel. Determined to avoid a repeat performance, Israel issued stern warnings to neighboring countries to keep protesters away from its borders. Thousands attended mass rallies in Jordan and Lebanon as thousands of Israeli troops remained deployed at sensitive locations in Jerusalem, crossings into the Palestinian territories and Israel's borders with Arab countries.  

Israel's Arab citizens marched in the main Land Day rally held in Dir Hana in the north, as Bedouin citizens protested in the south against the "Prawer plan" -- a contested government proposal to grant Bedouins a certain portion of lands to which they lay claim and compensate them for others.


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-- Batsheva Sobelman

Photo: Palestinian protesters carry a man suffering from tear gas inhalation fired by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration to mark the anniversary Friday of Land Day in the village of Kafr Qaddum, close to the northern town of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Credit : Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP / Getty Images.