Clashes as Palestinians mark Nakba Day

BEITUNIA CHECKPOINT, Palestinian Territories - Israeli forces faced off with Palestinian stone-throwers in the West Bank on Tuesday during the annual Nakba Day protests over the "catastrophe" that befell the Palestinians in 1948.
At Beitunia checkpoint near Ramallah, youths hurled stones at troops, who fired tear gas, metal pellets and rubber bullets in a bid to break up the demonstration, an AFP correspondent said.  Many protesters could be seen with blood on their faces as they waved black flags and roared angry slogans. Clashes also broke out at Qalandiya checkpoint south of Ramallah, where youths threw stones at Israeli troops, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them, AFP correspondents said.
A source at Ramallah's government hospital told AFP that 17 people had been injured by rubber bullets, 15 at Beitunia and another two at Qalandia.
There were also reports of clashes in Hebron and at Rachel's Tomb on the edge of Bethlehem, where the Israeli military said 200 protesters confronted troops.
Two soldiers were lightly injured, a spokesman said. The protesters were commemorating the "Nakba," when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the war that accompanied Israel's declaration of independence. But this year's confrontations were largely low-level, in stark contrast with last year, when thousands tried to breach Israel's northern frontiers, prompting troops to open fire, killing 10 people and injuring hundreds.
In the West bank city of Ramallah, where president Mahmud Abbas has his headquarters, sirens wailed and hundreds of people at a rally in the central Clock Square stood in silence for 64 seconds - one for each year of Israeli statehood.
Cars flew black flags carrying a picture of a house key and the word "return" in English and Arabic to remember homes they left or were forced from which are now inside Israel, an AFP correspondent said.
Further north, several thousand people gathered in Nablus city centre waving flags and calling for the right of return, with a similar number showing up in the southern city of Hebron.  They also hailed the successful end of a mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which was resolved late on Monday. This year's Nakba anniversary was to have been a protest over the ongoing mass hunger strike by 1,550 prisoners, most of whom refused food for between four and 11 weeks.
But in a last-minute development, the dispute was resolved late on Monday when prisoner leaders signed a deal with Israel, agreeing to end their fast in exchange for an easing of their conditions. In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, clashes broke out in Issawiya between police and stone-throwers, with four people arrested, police and an AFP correspondent said. And in downtown Gaza City, thousands joined a march organised by the ruling Hamas movement.
On a lighter note, Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya joined dozens of other men, several sporting middle-age spread, in a 500-metre (yard) Nakba Day jog from the central Al-Jalaa Street to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Haniya and his companions wore track-suit bottoms and t-shirts with numbers, with others carrying Palestinian flags for the brief run, which was organised by the ministry of youth and sport.
Arab Israelis also held a march near the northern town of Umm al-Fahm with around thousand people joining in, some carrying Palestinian flags, participants said.
More than 760,000 Palestinians - estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants - fled or were driven out of their homes.
Around 160,000 Palestinians stayed behind and are now known as Arab Israelis. They now number about 1.3 million people, or some 20 percent of the population.

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