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Lebanon's Palestinians bury victims of Israeli fire

May 16, 2011 5:10 P.M. (Updated: May 17, 2011 1:12 P.M.)
TYRE, Lebanon (AFP) -- Thousands of bereaved Palestinian refugees laid to rest Monday victims of a cross-border Israeli shooting the day earlier, as shops and schools in the camps closed for a day of mourning.

In the Al-Bass refugee camp, thousands gathered for the burial of 17-year-old Mohammed Salem, one of 10 protesters shot dead by Israeli troops at the Lebanese border, where Palestinians gathered to mark Nakba Day.

More than 100 others were wounded when the crowd of thousands of refugees came under fire from Israeli troops near the Lebanese border town of Maroun Ar-Ras. Israel's military said the gunfire erupted when the protesters began throwing stones.

Salem's schoolmates carried a massive Palestinian flag, which measured 40 meters in length, as a crowd of angry mourners made their way from a mosque to a burial ground in the camp, located in the southern coastal city of Tyre.

"There is no God but God, our martyr is God's beloved," shouted the crowd, which included children and women, many in tears.

"Your blood will not die, we will have vengeance," they chanted, as guns were fired into the air.

Other victims were buried in the southern camps of Burj Ash-Shemali and Ain Al-Hilweh -- Lebanon's largest and most notorious refugee camp -- as well as in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

Palestinian factions in Lebanon said talks were still underway to determine what action they would take following Israel's attack on protesters, who had been unarmed when they approached the Lebanese side of the border.

Israel on Monday announced that it would complain to the UN over the "failure" of Lebanese and Syrian security to stop protesters from reaching their countries borders with Israel. Rights groups and political officials, however, condemned the Israeli fire against unarmed civilians in protest.

Ali Barakeh, the Lebanon representative of Islamist group Hamas, said Lebanon's Palestinians were readying for a massive rally on Thursday outside of the UN offices in Beirut.

"This is a massacre inside Lebanese territory," Barakeh, who was present at the Sunday rally, told AFP. "The only arms at the Lebanese side of the border were rocks.

"We place the blame for what happened on Sunday squarely on the shoulders of the enemy [Israel]."

The leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah meanwhile lauded the "courage" of protesters who faced Israeli gunfire and reiterated his warning of Israel's fate.

"We must bow before the courage, the bravery, of those who protested yesterday at Lebanon and Syria's borders with occupied Palestine, who faced the tyranny of the enemy with bare chests and their heads held high," Hassan Nasrallah said in a statement released by his Shiite group Monday.

"Your message, loud and clear, to the enemy is that you will liberate your lands, that the fate of this entity [Israel] is demise, and that no initiatives, treaties or borders will protect it," he added.

"You, the honorable, have given the Nakba new meaning," Nasrallah said, referring to the 1948 creation of Israel.

Israel launched a devastating war on southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is prominent, in the summer of 2006 that destroyed much of Lebanon's major infrastructure and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese -- mainly civilians -- and 160 Israelis, mainly soldiers.

Sunday's attack has drawn widespread condemnation in Lebanon, with caretaker prime minister Saad Hariri, an ally of the United States, slamming the shooting as a "blatant, intolerable aggression."

Lebanon has filed a complaint to the United Nations Security Council over the attack, urging the organization to "bear its responsibilities and pressure Israel to end its aggressive and provocative policies toward Lebanon."

Lebanon is home to between 270,000 and 400,000 Palestinian refugees, according to UN and state figures. Most of them live in destitute poverty in 12 camps across the country.
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