Arab Israelis, Palestinians mark 'Land Day'

Arab Israelis, Palestinians mark 'Land Day'

SAKHNIN, Israel - Agence France-Presse
Arab Israelis, Palestinians mark Land Day

Israeli Arabs wave a giant Palestinian flag during a rally in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on March 30, commemorating the 37th anniversary of "Land Day". The annual demonstrations mark the deaths of six Arab Israeli protesters at the hands of Israeli police and troops during mass protests in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in the northern Galilee region. AFP photo

Arab Israelis and Palestinians rallied on March 30, some clashing with Israeli forces, to commemorate Land Day, marking the 1976 killing of six Arab Israelis protesting plans to confiscate Arab land.

Thousands marched from the centre of the northern Israeli town Sakhnin to the central event at the memorial site dedicated to the six, killed by Israeli forces during mass protests against plans to confiscate Arab land in the Galilee region.

They waved Palestinian flags and shouted slogans honouring the dead and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Some 1,000 people rallied in Israel's southern Negev region, expressing support for Palestinian prisoners and a Palestinian state. They also protested the state's plan to resettle tens of thousands of desert-dwelling Bedouin in permanent townships and take thousands of hectares (acres) now inhabited by the Bedouins.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza also held rallies, some erupting into clashes with Israeli forces.

In the contested West Bank zone east of Jerusalem referred to as E1 known locally as Bab Al-Shams, a delegation of 20 Palestinians, including prime minister Salam Fayyad, planted olive trees to mark Land Day.

Fayyad's office quoted him as saying the act also reiterated "that our people's presence in Bab Al-Shams and every corner of our land will remain deeply rooted, just like olive trees are rooted in our land." Twice in recent weeks, Palestinians have formed encampments in the zone by that name that Israel evacuated. Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said police dispersed the event and confiscated the saplings.

A few dozen Palestinians held a rally outside Jerusalem's Old City and, on the nearby Mount of Olives, some 200 Palestinians planted trees on land belonging to a Palestinian family. Samri said three people were arrested for trespassing on state-owned land.

At the West Bank Qalandia checkpoint near Jerusalem nearly 200 Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas.

And near Qalqiliya some 20 Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers, wounding two of them. The soldiers responded with tear gas.

Israeli security forces and Palestinians also clashed at Beit Ummar, near Hebron, and at Al-Khader in the Bethlehem region. There were no injuries or arrests in the events, in which security forces fired tear gas at stone throwers.

In the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya dozens of people joined a rally, while at Khan Yunis in the south olive trees were planted in commemoration.

Sami Abu Zuhri of Hamas, which rules Gaza, told people in Khan Yunis that the Islamist movement was "continuing our resistance to liberate all of Palestine," and would "continue to strike inside Israel." In Rafah, near Gaza's southern border with Israel, some 500 Palestinians took part in a rally during which some threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire that wounded one person.

The security presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank was boosted on March 29 "following information that groups of Palestinians were ready to engage in violent demonstrations," Samri said.