Palestinians are marking the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Arabs were forced out of their homes and into exile.
Sirens were sounded for 65 seconds and demonstrations took place at midday local time in Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Jericho to mark the day.
In Jerusalem, at around 11am people started to gather and then at 11.30am they walked from Manara Square with marching bands, Jane Ferguson reported. This was followed by speeches by officials and a concert.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their villages during the war that established Israel in 1948, an event they commemorate every year as their Nakba Day, Arabic for "catastrophe".
|Palestinians are commemorating the 1948 exodus of hundreds of thousands of their kin [AFP]
On Tuesday, the eve of the anniversary, Palestinians carried 65 torches through the streets of Ramallah to mark the event, while hundreds of others gathered around a stage to hear the Palestinian National Forces band play their instruments.
In the evening, a special pre-recorded speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was broadcast on Palestinian television.
Abbas said that the Palestinian right to an "independent state" had been affirmed by "countries all over the world" and called on the Israeli government to show its positive intentions during negotiations by releasing Palestinian prisoners.
"If the Israeli government has positive intentions it should release our prisoners, especially those who are in prison before 1993 and also the sick, the women, the children and our brothers, the Palestinian party leaders and the Palestinian legislative council members," he said.
'Right of return'
Palestinians have maintained for six decades that Arabs who either fled or were expelled from their homes during the fighting that followed Israel's 1948 creation, as well as all their descendants, all have the right to reclaim former properties in what is now Israel.
The uprooted Palestinians and their offspring, now numbering several million people, cite United Nations resolutions in claiming the right to return to the property they left behind.
The fate of Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian claim to what they call "the Right of Return" is an explosive issue that has loomed large in the failure of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks over the past two decades.
In previous rounds of negotiations, several ideas were floated, including allowing for a limited return of refugees to what is now Israel and settling the rest in a future Palestinian state and third countries along with compensation.
Talks broke off four years ago.