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Israel quashes West Bank protests

June 5, 2011 1:49 P.M. (Updated: June 7, 2011 1:27 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- An estimated 300 Palestinians who gathered at the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem were met with tear gas and rubber coated bullets on Sunday, as they marked the 44th anniversary of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

"To Jerusalem we go," read signs held by protesters, who marched to the checkpoint separating the central West Bank from Jerusalem, located on the route of the separation wall, built some 5 kilometers on the Palestinian side of the 1967 border.

"Freedom is a human right," another sign said, held by one of the few men who were able to bypass a heavy Israeli military cordon outside the checkpoint, which severed the crowd in two.

Men trickled into the area in front of the soldiers slowly, and when ten had amassed and tried to form a human chain in front of the checkpoint, soldiers began firing tear gas, sound bombs and rubber-coated bullets on the group. When soldiers in riot gear carrying plastic shields attempted to push the men back, they resisted by sitting on the ground and refusing to move until they were evacuated by force.

Following the initial confrontation, Palestinian youth at the back of the crowd threw stones at soldiers.

A medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent told Ma'an in the mid-afternoon that 10 had been evacuated by ambulance, saying several had been hit by rubber-coated bullets.

Officials from the Palestinian Red Crescent said that by the end of the day, 120 were treated for injuries including nine volunteer medics who had been sprayed with stink water as they offered treatment to protesters. Two other medics were injured in their hands, burned by tear-gas and sound-bomb canisters.

The operations room recorded four injured by rubber-coated bullets, who were evacuated to hospital.

Organizers confirmed the use of stink spray, a noxious water-based chemical spray, used on a crowd near the rear of the protest, while others reported being sprayed by pepper spray in the face by soldiers attempting to remove them from the area.

In the nearby Qalandia refugee camp, locals said Israeli soldiers entered the area and surrounded several homes, accusing the children inside of stone throwing. No arrests were reported.

In the northern Gaza Strip, demonstrators marched from Beit Hanoun toward the Erez crossing, but Hamas police erected checkpoints to stop protesters reaching Israel's border.

Tens of demonstrators who tried to break away and march north clashed with Hamas police, who detained at least a dozen.

Jamal Abu Nahl, of the Palestinian Democratic Union politburo member Jamal Abu Nahl delivered a speech, and told protesters that Palestinians should maintain unity, encourage resistance and oppose compromises with Israel's occupation.

The rallies marked Naksa Day, the anniversary of the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

With reporting from Mya Guarnieri at Qalandiya.
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