Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian teens in a West Bank clash that erupted Thursday after Palestinians marked their uprooting during the Mideast war over Israel's 1948 creation, a doctor said.
Three Palestinians were wounded, one seriously, when Israeli troops fired to disperse stone throwers near an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank, said Dr. Samir Saliba, head of the emergency department at Ramallah Hospital.
Saliba said those killed were 15 and 17 years old and were shot by live rounds in the chest. The seriously wounded protester was also shot in the upper body, he said.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said troops broke up a “disturbance” in the area, but did not use live fire.
The Israeli army, which also was present, said security forces attempted to disperse a demonstration of about 150 protesters with “riot dispersal means and rubber bullets.” It said it was still investigating.
The clash came just hours after Palestinians marched in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to commemorate their displacement in the Mideast war over Israel's 1948 creation.
Sirens wailed at noon in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank for 66 seconds to symbolize the number of years since the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe” in Arabic - the term Palestinians use to describe their displacement.
Israel defeated the armies of surrounding Arab states that had attacked after the Jewish state was declared in 1948.
More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced out during the fighting, according to the United Nations. Many of the refugees and their descendants still live in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. More than 5 million Palestinians are registered with the U.N. as refugees.
Every May 15, Palestinians hold rallies to commemorate the event - and the dispute over the fate of the Palestinian refugees remains at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It's also a key issue in peace talks with Israel, though those talks have produced no results. The latest U.S. brokered peace talks between the sides aimed at establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel collapsed last month.
Israel opposes a mass return of the Palestinians, fearing it would dilute the state's Jewish majority.
Israel has offered to take in a small number of Palestinian refugees but insists that the rest must be resettled in a future Palestinian state to be created under a peace accord or in the countries where they now live.
In the Palestinian public discourse, a large-scale return is still portrayed as the main goal. The Palestinian leadership has said each refugee has the right to choose his or her fate, including return or resettlement in a state of Palestine or third countries, but also hinted at flexibility in the context of a final deal.
“It is time for the leaders of Israel to understand that there is no homeland for the Palestinians except Palestine, and it is here we are staying,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in his Nakba Day address broadcast Wednesday night.
“It is time to end the longest occupation in modern history,” Abbas added.
For their part, the Palestinians have been split since 2007, when Islamic Hamas militants seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to the secular, Western-backed Abbas. Hamas now rules Gaza while Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have control of parts of the West Bank.
The two Palestinian factions have made significant reconciliation gestures recently and seem to be closer to bridging their differences.
In his address, Abbas said that ending the division is a top Palestinian priority.