Thousands of Palestinians Protest to Mark 'Independence Day'

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IDF soldiers contain protester during demonstrations near Ramallah, on November 14, 2012.Credit: Chaim Levinson

Thousands of Palestinians were demonstrating across the West Bank on Wednesday, marking the "Independence Day" declared by the Palestine National Council in 1988.

Ahead of the official commemoration day set for Thursday, some 2,000 Palestinians marched toward the northern exit of the West Bank from Jericho to the Jordan Valley Highway, Route 90.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers fired tear gas at the protesters as they approached the highway. Dozens of people were wounded from the tear gas, Palestinian Radio reported.

The demonstration was organized by Jabril Rajoub, chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, as part of a protest against Israel's policy in West Bank settlements.

The activities were coordinated around the anniversary of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death, the Palestinian Day of Independence (November 15), and ahead of the United Nations vote at the end of November on recognizing the "State of Palestine" as a non-member observer.

Palestinian demonstrators also blocked the road next to the Camp Ofer prison, and disturbances were reported on the Bir Zeit Road near the West Bank city of Ramallah. Two buses blocked traffic on Route 446 near the village of Na'alin, and some 80 Palestinians marched from the village of Bil'in toward the nearby Route 443 to block the road with chains and locks.

Demonstrators also reached the Hawara Road, which leads to the West Bank settlements of Itamar, Alon Moreh, Bracha, and Yitzhar, where they were met by IDF vehicles.

Groups of demonstrators congregated near the settlement of Tekoa, and next to the Palestinian village of Sinjil, in the northern West Bank.

The IDF appraises that the demonstrations will continue onto Route 60, which crosses the West Bank.

The demonstrations are also expected to reach East Jerusalem, according to an activist in the neighborhood of Silwan. Other activities will including the planting of trees in various areas.

The demonstrators are planning to declare national unification, their oppostion to the existence and expansion of the settlements, and to announce "this land is ours", Palestinian Radio reported.

Oeganizers emphasize that these demonstrations are popular and non-violent. The IDF's Central Command have been preparing for these protests with high alert since Tuesday evening. An IDF officer said that a large police forces were spread out in Judea and Samaria, and were briefed in case of disturbances in the area.

The defense establishment nevertheless, defined the current security situation in the West Bank as the best in years, and said it was not interested in escalation of further confrontations.

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