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More than 100 injured in West Bank Nakba protests

May 15, 2011 5:11 P.M. (Updated: May 16, 2011 10:04 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Violent clashes broke out at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem Sunday, as Palestinians rallied to demand the right of return for refugees exiled in 1948.

Marching to the military installment, teenagers hurled stones, and troops responded with tear gas and rubber bullets in the morning, with later reports saying live fire was used.

Over a thousand protesters took part in the protest, and young men tried to take down parts of Israel's separation wall at Qalandiya, where it is built more than five kilometers into Palestinian territory.

A statement from Israel's military said "600 Palestinians are violently rioting" in the area, noting "rocks were hurled, as were flares, at security forces who have been responding with riot dispersal means."

Black smoke billowed from tires dragged toward the checkpoint from the refugee camp, by young men whose faces were covered, making their way through clouds of tear gas.

Medics on the scene said 55 were evacuated from the protest in ambulance, and witnesses estimated six had been detained. Medics told AFP that at least one was badly injured, hit in the head with a rubber-coated bullet.

A doctor with the Palestinian Authority's Civil Defense crews told Ma'an that 250 had been treated for injuries and tear-gas inhalation, noting at least 40 had been seriously injured and transferred to hospital.

A report from the Palestinian Red Crescent said two were hit with live rounds, 15 were injured by rubber-coated bullets, and 120 suffered tear-gas inhalation.

The air at Qalandiya was thick with tear gas, which permeated through the adjacent Qalandiya refugee camp, prompting parents to keep young children indoors.

Treating an 80-year-old woman from the adjacent refugee camp, medics told Ma'an the tear-gas being used was different from the regular gas used by the military, and had caused at least 20 to go into seizures, some of whom lost consciousness..

In Ramallah's city center, Palestinians demanding the right of return for refugees held banners and waved flags. One large banner, shaped as a postcard, read:

Dear Haifa,

We are returning.

A Palestinian refugee

A rally near the tomb of former President Yasser Arafat drew thousands. The head of the PLO office for refugee affairs told crowds that the right of return would not be abandoned.

"All of our people must rally around this right; there will be no peace, security or stability in this region without the return of the refugees to their homeland, and their property from which they were expelled," PLO Executive committee member Wasel Abu Yousef said.

He added that September would be a landmark month for Palestinian rights, referencing a Palestinian Authority effort to gain international recognition for a Palestinian state.

North of Ramallah, demonstrators gathered at the northern entrance to Birzeit University north of Ramallah, setting fire to used tires and throwing stones at Israeli troops stationed at Atara checkpoint.

Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets, tear-gas canisters and stun grenades at protesters. Several demonstrators fainted after choking on the gas, witnesses said.

Red Crescent officials said 19 were injured with rubber-coated bullets, a child sustained burns from a tear-gas canister and 11 others suffered the effects of tear-gas inhalation.

Jerusalem's Old City shut down

Israeli police installed barricades at all entrances of the Old City of Jerusalem, checking the identity cards of Palestinians and refusing entry to many young men.

Palestinians in the eastern quarters of the city responded by closing down shops and observing the day with a strike.

A heavy police presence was reported in flashpoint neighborhoods across East Jerusalem, with the only reported clash in Issawiya, where young men threw stones and hurled Molotov cocktails, police said.

"Stones were thrown at police. Three people were arrested and one police officer was slightly injured," Israel's police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Five detained in Al-Walaja events

Five were detained from what organizers called a "peaceful nonviolent civil disobedient march" in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja. Palestinians and international supporters gathered to help residents of the village farm lands they have been denied access to as construction of the separation wall continues through private lands.

According to organizers, two foreign nationals and three Palestinians were among those detained, including prominent civil society activist Mazen Qumsiyeh.

An estimated 150 people had staged the work day, marching toward the confiscated lands waving black flags and Palestinian flags, shouting: "Go away, go away! We don't want to see the Zionists," an AFP correspondent said

Israeli forces deploy en masse in West Bank

Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed forces to seal off the West Bank for 24 hours, starting at midnight Saturday.

Israeli police are on high alert, and 10,000 officers and border guards will be deployed in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"We have mobilized thousands of police officers who are deployed in sensitive areas, particularly in Jerusalem and in the Wadi Ara area," spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, referring to a northern area near Haifa which has a large population of Palestinians.

"Our forces have been placed on high alert in order to allow the planned events to go ahead, but we will not tolerate any violation of public order," Rosenfeld added.

Overnight Saturday, police arrested 13 Palestinians following demonstrations in occupied East Jerusalem, raising to 63 the total number arrested since Friday, he said, adding that eight police had been injured.
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