One Palestinian killed as thousands mark Land Day

Large demonstrations have intensified in recent years, a sign of growing Palestinian frustration with stalled peace talks and expending Jewish settlements.

Israeli border police officers use pepper spray as they detain an injured Palestinian protester during clashes on Land Day outside Jerusalem.
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QALANDIA // Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian man in Gaza yesterday during one of many pro-Palestinian rallies to mark Land Day.

Mahmud Zakut, 20, was killed in Beit Hanun in an area near the border fence with Israel, said Adham Abu Selmiya, the emergency services spokesman.

Large-scale demonstrations have intensified in recent years, a sign of growing Palestinian frustration with stalled peace talks and expending Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

Skirmishes between Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators erupted on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Scores of Palestinians waving nationalist flags marched on Jerusalem's Qalandia checkpoint, which divides the city from the West Bank.

Israeli security personnel fired tear-gas canisters and, according to witnesses, rubber bullets. Israel's military said they responded to young men who joined the demonstrations by using slingshots and throwing rocks.

Dozens of Palestinians and at least one Israeli security officer reported to have been injured.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and former presidential candidate, was among those injured during the march on the checkpoint. Two Israeli tear-gas canisters struck his head and back, he said by telephone from the hospital.

Witnesses said, however, he was injured by men in plainclothes. He was injured while attempting to lead a march of Palestinians and international activists into Jerusalem.

Using permits, checkpoints and its concrete separation barrier, Israel prevents many West Bank Palestinians from accessing the city, which is revered by Muslims, Christians and Jews.

"I want to say that our demonstration today was totally peaceful and non-violent," Mr Barghouti said. "We were approaching with flags, and then they started attacking."

Thousands also rallied nears Israel's border with Lebanon and in Jordan, where some 15,000 Islamists and trade-union figures gathered near the occupied West Bank. Jordan is one of two Arab countries that have a peace treaty with Israel. The other is Egypt.

Palestinian, Arab and international organisations planned the demonstrations to mark Land Day, the annual mourning and protest of Israel's killing of six Palestinian citizens of Israel in 1976. They were shot while protesting the confiscation of Arab-owned lands by the Israeli government in the predominantly Palestinian Galilee area.

Clashes during these annual events have put Israel on edge. Preparing for yesterday's demonstrations, Israel's military issued a general closure of the West Bank.

Last May, thousands of people tried to storm into Israel from Syria and Lebanon to mark the Nakba, or catastrophe - the Palestinians' term for the creation of Israel in 1948. Eleven people were killed by Israeli gunfire in those clashes and hundreds injured, according to United Nations statistics.

Then in June, at least 10 more demonstrators were shot dead and scores more injured in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which it captured during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The demonstrators, marking Israel's victory in that war, again tried to enter Israel from Syria.

In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip yesterday, Palestinian demonstrators also were reportedly injured by Israeli fire. Israel's military confirmed that it shot and wounded one protester, who was part of a group of as many as 15,000 demonstrators rallying near the Israeli-built concrete barrier that surrounds Gaza.

Demonstrators also rallied in Bethlehem and near Jerusalem's Old City.

Unlike last year, however, demonstrators in Lebanon did not try to cross into Israel. Several thousand people instead gathered near the Beaufort Castle, about 15 kilometres from Israel, to demonstrate, suggesting that Lebanese officials did not want a repeat of last year's violence.

They held banners saying "Land Day is the day when we rededicate ourselves to the right of return," in reference to a return to Israel of the Palestinians who became refugees during the fighting that led to Israel's creation.

Near Qalandia yesterday, Amjad Khalifa, 26, who lives in Ramallah, was preparing to march on Jerusalem even though he doubted he would ever set foot inside the city. He had not been allowed to visit in a decade.

It was to show Israel that the Palestinians were capable of launching a non-violent uprising, he said.

"Israel wants to steal every metre of our land, and we want to show them that they can't keep doing this," he said.

Shortly after, he and hundreds of others were repelled by clouds of Israeli-fired tear gas.

* With additional reporting Associated Press and Agence France-Presse