Thousands of Palestinians rallied across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday to mark the 66th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948.
For the first time since 2007, Palestinian political factions organized joint rallies to mark the mass displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians in the conflict surrounding Israel’s creation.
Israeli forces deployed at seam zones and main entrances to major West Bank cities in anticipation of large demonstrations.
At the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, protestors set fire to tires and hurled stones at border police who responded with “riot dispersal means,” an army spokesman told AFP, using the term usually applied to the use of rubber bullets or tear gas.
In Ramallah, where President Mahmoud Abbas has his headquarters, people on the streets stood in silence for 66 seconds while sirens wailed.
“On this 66th anniversary of the Nakba we hope that this year will be the one in which our long suffering ends,” Abbas said in a speech broadcast on Palestinian TV and radio on Wednesday evening.
“It is time to put an end to the longest occupation in modern history and time for Israel’s leaders to understand that there is no other homeland for the Palestinians but Palestine,” he said.
In Gaza City, speakers told large crowds that the Palestinian people would continue to struggle until the right of return and self-determination have been achieved.
“Nationalist struggle of all kinds will continue in order to forcefully achieve the right of return, self-determination and an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” Zakariyya al-Agha, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO, told crowds.
He urged the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation to “end the historic tyranny practiced against the displaced Palestinian people, and to enable them to return to their homeland from which they were displaced in 1948.”
Ahmad Bahar, deputy second speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the right of return is “sacred” and urged Arab states to show responsibility towards Palestinian refugees.
The Hamas official urged the PLO to abandon negotiations with Israel, stressing that 20 years of talks have achieved nothing.
A crowd of demonstrators from all political factions marched from Gaza City to the Erez, or Beit Hanoun, crossing in northern Gaza, a Ma’an reporter said.
In Hebron, Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces following a rally in the city marking the Nakba.
Eleven men were hospitalized after being shot by rubber-coated steel bullets, with one victim hit in the eye. Dozens of protesters were injured by tear gas as hundreds joined a rally in the city center.
Demonstrators waved black flags to represent the right of return.
Hundreds also marched in Tubas, in the northern West Bank.
Earlier, two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces during a demonstration near Ofer detention center.
Witnesses and medical sources identified the victims as 22-year-old Muhammad Audah Abu al-Thahir from the Ramallah-area village of Abu Shukheidim and 17-year-old Nadim Siyam Nuwarah from al-Mazraa al-Qibliyya village in Ramallah district.
(Maan and agencies – www.maannews.net)