Abbas: It's Time to End the Nakba of the Palestinian People

Palestinians mark Nakba with sirens, rallies; Poll: 50% of Palestinians don't expect state within 25 years.

Palestinians on Thursday marked the 60th anniversary of their displacement, which they call Nakba, or catastrophe.

At a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an end to the occupation, saying: "There are two peoples living on this beloved land - one celebrates independence and the other feels pain of the memory of its Nakba... It's time to end the Nakba of the Palestinian people."

The commemoration of the Nakba is an annual ritual of mourning that turned even darker this year because of crippling internal divisions, diminishing independence hopes and the stark contrast to Israel's all-out birthday bash.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse dozens of Palestinian stonethrowers in a confrontation that erupted during a rally on the Gaza border.

There were no immediate reports of injuries at the border clashes. The protesters broke away from supporters at the Hamas rally, then approached the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza.

Gaza has been almost completely sealed since last June's violent Hamas takeover of the territory.

Hamas staged a protest against the closure about two kilometers from the Erez crossing. After the march, dozens of teenagers and children moved closer to Israeli positions on the border and threw stones. IDF soldiers fired live rounds and tear gas.

In Ramallah, the seat of Abbas's Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, pedestrians stood at attention for two minutes to remember the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced to leave their homes in the fighting around Israel's creation in 1948.

Across the West Bank, rallies, sirens and the launch of thousands of black balloons were to commemorate the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 war over Israel's creation.

Underscoring the political divisions, Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers planned separate events, including a march toward a sealed Israeli border crossing.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday reinforced its presence in the northern Gaza Strip out of fear that the Hamas rally marking the Nakba would get out of control.

This year's commemorations of what the Palestinians call their Nakba, or "catastrophe," comes at a time when hopes for a peace deal with Israel are increasingly dim.

Several months of negotiations have produced no tangible results, an Israeli prime minister weakened by a widening corruption probe is seen as unlikely to take daring political steps, and support for U.S.-backed Palestinian leaders seeking a peace deal is plummeting.

The Palestinian economy remains stagnant, despite a massive injection of foreign aid, in part because of Israel's reluctance to ease its restrictions on movement and trade.

Meanwhile, the separation of Hamas-run Gaza and the West Bank led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is deepening. The rivals are not on speaking terms, and the two territories that were to make up the future state are cut off from one another by Israeli travel bans.

"The level of hopelessness is very strong," said Palestinian pollster Jamil Rabih, adding that a recent survey indicates that half the Palestinians don't expect to see a state established within the next 25 years.

"There is nothing on the horizon for us," he added.

The gloomy mood has been compounded by Israeli independence day parties. Last week, Israel celebrated the Hebrew calendar anniversary of its May 14, 1948 founding with fireworks, picnics and air force flyovers.

A second round of celebrations followed this week, with the participation of U.S. President George W. Bush.

On Thursday, Bush was to address Israel's parliament. On Wednesday, Bush praised Israel as "our strongest ally and friend in the Middle East."

Most Palestinians viewed the Bush visit with indifference, according to a poll published Wednesday by the Arab World For Research & Development, an independent think tank. Eighty percent of 1,200 respondents said they don't believe the U.S. president is serious about pushing for a Palestinian state.