At least 12 killed as ‘Nakba’ rage goes beyond Palestine to Golan and Lebanon


Israeli troops killed 10 people and wounded more than a hundred others on the border with Lebanon on Sunday during a protest by Palestinian refugees, according to media reports.

Israeli gunfire also killed 2 protesters and wounded dozens as civilians crossed from Syria onto the annexed Golan Heights Sunday.

On the Palestinian front, Israeli troops opened fire on more than 1,000 Palestinians marching on the northern Erez crossing with Israel, wounding at least 52 people, according to medics and an Agence-France Presse correspondent.

The UN peacekeeping force in the Lebanon-Israeli border region called for “maximum restraint on all sides in order to prevent any further casualties” and for “immediate concrete security steps on the ground.”

Syria condemned Israel's “criminal activities” in the Golan Heights, the Palestinian territories and southern Lebanon where Israeli forces had fired to disperse pro-Palestinian protests.

Witnesses said several hundred people had bypassed a Hamas checkpoint to come within a few hundred meters of a concrete border barrier, in a huge march to mark the 63rd anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948, in what is known in Arabic as the “nakba” or “catastrophe.”

The incursion into the Israeli-held Golan Heights by thousands of protesters from Syria on Sunday was a “very serious and violent” incident, Israeli army spokeswoman Avital Liebowitz told AFP.

And in Lebanon, according to Reuters four protesters were killed and 11 wounded in a shooting incident at the Lebanese-Israeli border where Palestinians were demonstrating on Sunday, security sources said.

Reuters cameraman Ezzat Baltaji said he has on film three dead bodies.

Israeli forces had fired in the air to repel protesting Palestinians while the Lebanese army fired in the air in an attempt to stop protesters from reaching the border.

Further south, more than 5,000 demonstrators also held a mass rally in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, an AFP correspondent said.

They waved Palestinian flags and held up huge replica wooden keys to homes they fled or were expelled from during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which followed the creation of the Jewish state.

Palestinians marked the occasion this year “with great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine,” the Associated Press reported Prime Minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, as saying to a crowd of 10,000 in Gaza.

“To achieve our goals in the liberation of our occupied land, we should have one leadership,” Mr. Haniyeh said, praising the recent unity deal between former rivals Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas and Fatah’s recent reconciliation and unity pact angered the Israeli government, which froze payment due to Palestinian Authority.

The freeze on the revenues Palestinians are owed from tax revenues has resulted in the Authority being unable to pay employees their May salaries. The Palestinian Authority has also pleaded to the international community for funds.

Analysts said Mr. Haniyeh’s comments on Sunday would not be helpful to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Haniyeh’s comments, said analysts, suggested that Israel should be eliminated.

Mr. Abbas has been trying to market Hamas to the international community as an acceptable political partner.

More than 760,000 Palestinians—estimated today to number 4.7 million with their descendants—were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict.

Around 160,000 Palestinians stayed behind and are now known as Arab Israelis. They number around 1.3 million people, or some 20 percent of Israel’s population.

Several million Palestinians who are living in refugee camps in various countries have urged the United Nations for the right to return, a demand Israel refuses to accept.

It is this dispute that remains at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Other issues include the return of territory that Israel seized during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and the status of Jerusalem, which Israel claims wholly.

Marches commemorating the “nakba” were also planned in the Abbas-ruled West Bank and Arab towns in Israel.

Israeli security forces were on high alert Sunday while the military sealed the West Bank for a day, barring Palestinians from entering Israel.

On Friday, police arrested 34 Palestinians on suspicion of public order violations, while 13 were rounded up preemptively as potential troublemakers.

A 16-year-old Palestinian, Mild Ayyash, who was fatally wounded in “nakba” clashes in Jerusalem on Friday, died overnight, his family told AFP on Saturday.

“He died after being shot in the stomach; we are taking the body for burial now,” Maher Ayyash, the uncle of the teenager, told AFP.

Another relative said that a Jewish settler in the flashpoint neighborhood of Silwan, where youngsters hurled stones and petrol bombs at police, shot the teenager.

Meanwhile, a UN official said that a planned visit to Silwan on Saturday by visiting Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, was cancelled “because of the situation.”

In related news, one person was killed and several others injured as a truck driven by an Arab Israeli rammed into a bus and several cars in Tel Aviv, police said, amid reports that it was a deliberate attack.

Police were checking if it was an accident or a politically motivated attack as Palestinians commemorated the “nakba” anniversary.

The New York Times adds:

In Jordan and Egypt, government security forces thwarted protesters setting off for the border.

Every year in mid-May, many Palestinians mark what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe, the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and the war in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes through expulsion and flight.

But this was the first year that Palestinian refugees and their supporters in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, inspired by the recent protests around the Arab world, tried to breach Israel’s military border from all sides.

“The Palestinians are not less rebellious than other Arab peoples,” said Ali Baraka, a Hamas representative in Lebanon.

At day’s end, as a tense calm returned to the country’s borders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said the protests had been aimed at destroying Israel, not creating a Palestinian state alongside it.

“The leaders of these violent demonstrations, their struggle is not over the 1967 borders but over the very existence of Israel, which they describe as a catastrophe that must be resolved,” he said in a televised statement. “It is important that we look with open eyes at the reality and be aware of whom we are dealing with and what we are dealing with.”

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, saluted the protesters in a televised speech, referring to the dead as martyrs.

“The blood of the Nakba fatalities was not spilled in vain,” he said. “They died for the Palestinian people’s rights and freedom.”

Officials and analysts have argued that with peace talks broken down and plans for a request of the United Nations to declare Palestinian statehood in September 2011, violence could return to define this conflict, which has been relatively quiet for the past two years.

“This is war,” said Amjad Abu Taha, a 16-year-old from Bethlehem who joined the protesters in Ramallah, a rock in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “We’re defending our country.”

Nearby, hundreds of Israeli troops roamed the area using stun guns and tear gas.

In Gaza, the Hamas police stopped buses carrying protesters near the main crossing into Israel, but dozens of demonstrators continued on foot, arriving at a point closer to the Israeli border than they had reached in years and drawing Israeli fire.

Later, in a separate incident, an 18-year-old Gazan near another part of the border fence was shot and killed by Israeli troops when, the Israeli military says, he was trying to plant an explosive.

At the Syrian border, an Israeli military spokesman said, troops fired only at infiltrators trying to damage the security barrier and equipment there. Some 13 Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded from thrown rocks.

The chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said on Israel radio that he saw Iran’s fingerprints in the coordinated confrontations although he offered no evidence. Syria has a close alliance with Iran, as does Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon, and Hamas, which rules in Gaza.

Yoni Ben-Menachem, Israel Radio’s chief Arab affairs analyst, said it seemed likely that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was seeking to divert attention from his harsh crackdown on the popular uprisings there by allowing confrontations in the Golan Heights for the first time in decades.

“This way Syria makes its contribution to the Nakba day cause, and Assad wins points by deflecting the media’s attention from what is happening inside Syria,” he added.

(Mustapha Ajbaili, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: [email protected]. Dina Al Shibeeb, also an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: [email protected])