On Land Day Anniversary, Thousands of Palestinians Rally in the West Bank; Israeli Troops Respond with Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets
JERUSALEM — Thousands of Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli troops at Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank on Friday as hundreds more gathered by Jerusalem's Old City to mark Land Day.
Rallies were also held by refugee communities in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon to mark the annual event that commemorates the deaths of six Arab Israeli protesters at the hands of Israeli forces during mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in northern Israel.
Tensions were high at the Qalandia checkpoint, just north of Jerusalem, as Palestinian youths hurled rocks and set tyres alight, with Israeli troops firing a barrage of tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to break up the protest.
Palestinian medics said they had treated 39 people, most of them for tear gas inhalation, while seven were injured by rubber bullets.
"There is a riot taking place at Qalandia. Rioters are throwing stones at the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and burning tyres, and the IDF is responding with riot dispersal means," a military spokesman told AFP.
In annexed Arab east Jerusalem, around 400 demonstrators waving huge Palestinian flags gathered outside the Old City near Damascus Gate, sparking scuffles with hundreds of police who were seen beating some of the crowd, an AFP correspondent said.
At one point, a policeman in full riot gear snatched a Palestinian flag, threw it on the ground and stamped on it.
Another hundred or so people gathered by Lion's Gate where police were seen beating at least two people, another AFP correspondent said.
Police said they arrested 18 people in the demonstrations in and around the Old City.
In the northern West Bank, around 1,000 people rallied at Kafr Qaddum near Nablus, Palestinian witnesses and security sources said.
And another 500 people marched from Iraq Burin towards the settlement of Bracha, sparking clashes with troops who fired tear gas.
In Gaza, eight people were injured by gunfire, a spokesman for the Hamas emergency services told AFP.
Six were wounded as thousands marched from Jabaliya to Beit Lahiya, while the other two were hurt near the south Gaza town of Khan Yunis, medics said.
The army confirmed firing toward a man who "lit a tyre and rolled it at the soldiers" near the Erez crossing, hitting him in the legs.
And military sources confirmed shooting a man in the leg near Khan Yunis after he set something alight very close to the border fence.
In south Lebanon, hundreds of Palestinian refugees gathered near the historic Beaufort Castle where roadside banners proclaimed: "Jerusalem, here we come!"
Large numbers of Lebanese troops were deployed in the area and barbed wire was erected to ensure no one approached the flashpoint frontier, an AFP correspondent said.
In Jordan, more than 15,000 people, including opposition Islamists and Palestinians, joined a sit-in in Kafrein, some 10 kilometres (six miles) from the Allenby crossing and barely a kilometre and a half (a mile) from the border, security officials said, saying the rally was "a peaceful sit-in."
In Israel, the main Land Day march was to take place in the Arab-Israeli town of Deir Hanna in Galilee, with another march scheduled in the southern Negev desert.
In anticipation of mass protests, the Israeli army imposed a 24-hour closure on the occupied territories late on Thursday, and police imposed an age limit on worshippers attending the main weekly Muslim prayers at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City.
Israel has been hoping to avoid a repeat of the bloody confrontations that took place last May when thousands gathered along the Lebanon border and on the Syrian Golan Heights on Nakba Day to protest on the anniversary of Israel's creation in 1948.
Israeli troops opened fire on protesters trying to cross the lines, killing 11 and wounding hundreds, according to UN figures.
A month later, between 10 and 23 people were killed and hundreds injured in a similar protest on the Golan Heights on Naksa Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1967 Six Day-War when Israel seized the territories.