Clashes Erupt as Nakba Day Protests Sweep Palestinian Territories

At least 45 youths hurt by IDF fire along Gaza fence; in West Bank, troops attempt to disperse protesters; firebomb hurled at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem.

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There were widespread protests throughout the Palestinian territories on Sunday, as fears that the annual Nakba Day commemorations would spiral into violence seemed to be realized as reports emerged of repeated clashes and arrests. Nakba Day is a Palestinian day to mourn the creation of the State of Israel.

Israel fired two tank shells and several rounds from machine guns as dozens of Palestinian protesters approached the heavily fortified border in the Gaza Strip over the course of the day, wounding at least 45 people, a Palestinian health official said.

A Palestinian prepares to throw stones at Israeli security forces during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Isawiyah on May 15, 2011. Credit: Reuters

On Sunday afternoon, IDF forces fired on a suspect planting an explosive device along the border in the northern Gaza Strip. A hit was identified, the IDF said.

Across the West Bank, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets, waving flags and holding old keys to symbolize their dreams of reclaiming property they lost when Israel was created on May 15, 1948.

In a West Bank refugee camp and on the outskirts of Jerusalem, IDF troops fired tear gas to break up large crowds of stone throwers.

Demonstrators gathered at a gas station near the village of Isawiyah in East Jerusalem early Sunday, hurling rocks at the security forces. One police officer was injured and at least 13 protesters were arrested during those clashes, some of them with the aid of a helicopter team.

Palestinians demonstrating near Mount Scopus in Jerusalem hurled firebombs at the back of the Hadassah University Hospital. No one was wounded in the incident and there were no reports of damage.

In the West Bank city of Qalandiya, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, several hundred protesters began marching toward a local checkpoint. Police attempted to disperse those protesters by firing tear gas canisters. 20 protesters were lightly hurt.

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Television still captures hundreds reportedly infiltrating Israel from Syria on Nakba Day, May 15, 2011.
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Dozens of Palestinians crossed the Israeli border and entered the village of Majdal Shams in a Nakba Day protest, May 15, 2011.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky
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Dozens of Palestinians crossed the Israeli border and entered the village of Majdal Shams in a Nakba Day protest, May 15, 2011.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky
Palestinians protest on Nakba Day

Other protesters gathered near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank; Palestinian security forces arrested some rioters, but left other demonstrations to continue unhindered.

Israel had instituted a 24-hour closure on the West Bank and deployed thousands of security forces across the West Bank to stave off potential violence on Nakba Day. Even so, officials had said they expected calm to prevail.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch arrived at the Western Wall and said that security forces are mobilized to the maximum in light of the events. "The police are on high alert, so the day can pass quietly," Aharonovitch said.

Aharonovitch stated that until now there have not been any incidents that were out of the ordinary and estimated that "the situation is under control, but we must keep in mind that everything could change."

Also Sunday, a resident of the Arab village of Kafr Qasem in northern Israel plowed a truck into vehicles and pedestrians on a busy Tel Aviv road at the tail end of rush hour. One man was killed and at least 16 others were wounded.

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