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'Return Train' tours Bethlehem for Nakba anniversary

May 15, 2016 1:15 P.M. (Updated: May 15, 2016 10:23 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A "Return Train" traveled through part of the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem on Sunday morning, as a symbolic demonstration of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and villages they were forcibly displaced from 68 years ago during the creation of Israel.

The train embarked from al-Duheisha refugee camp at 11 a.m., heading towards Bethlehem, where it drove past the separation wall. Organizers of the demonstration chanted the names of villages whose inhabitants were forcibly expelled or massacred in 1948.

Several hundred Palestinians, many of them children, marched alongside the train waving Palestinian flags.

Near the separation wall, Israeli forces fired two rounds of tear gas at demonstrators.

Munthir Amira, a member of an international rights network dedicated to refugees and displaced peoples, told Ma’an the concept behind the train was "to mimic our 68-year dream of returning."

The train was formed by four carriages, each representing names of displaced villages and the refugee camps where most of these villages' descendants now reside.

Amira added that the train was built with 1.5 tons of iron, wood, and a generator, and took a week to complete.

Al-Duheisha is one of 19 official refugee camps in the occupied West Bank serviced by UNRWA -- the UN agency for Palestinian refugees -- within which live about a quarter of the 774,167 registered refugees in the territory.

More than 750,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number more than five million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel's creation in 1948. The anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, is commemorated annually on May 15.
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