Clashes as Palestinians mark ‘Land Day’
Israeli security forces use water cannon and tear gas in clashes with protesters at flashpoint Qalandiya checkpoint.
Israeli security forces have fired rubber coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to break up groups of Palestinian demonstrators in the occupied West Bank as annual Land Day rallies turned violent.
At least 121 people have been injured in clashes at the Qalandiya checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Friday, mostly from tear gas inhalation, medical sources told Al Jazeera.
Palestinian activists have called for a “Global March to Jerusalem” to mark the day when Palestinian Israelis protest against government policies that they say has stripped them of land.
Five medical workers were also reported to have been shot with rubber coated bullets and one car was set ablaze.
Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry reported that Israeli security forces tried to push hundreds of protesters back toward the nearby West Bank town of Ramallah, using water cannon and tear gas.
Rocks were thrown, tyres set alight and Red Crescent ambulances could be seen at the scene.
“This is a place where we frequently see clashes, and what we’re seeing here is the Israeli army needing to put a barrier up and not let people through,” our correspondent said.
“These clashes seem to be a bit more fierce today, and have started earlier in the day than usual.”
Medics in the Gaza Strip said the Israelis also used live fire to prevent protesters from nearing the frontier wall.
Israeli forces were put on high alert at frontier crossings with Lebanon and Syria, but there were no reports of anyone nearing the border fences, unlike last year when several demonstrators were killed in separate protests.
|Israeli mounted policemen dispersed Palestinian protesters during clashes in East Jerusalem [AFP]|
However, violence flared at checkpoints in the West Bank to the north and south of Jerusalem.
Witnesses also reported disturbances at gates leading into the Old City, with police limiting access to the Muslims’ revered al-Aqsa Mosque.
A Reuters news agency reporter saw two men being carried away injured after scuffles at Jerusalem’s Lions’ Gate, while police said they had made five arrests at the Damascus Gate.
Jerusalem is a focal point of conflict, as Palestinians want the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, as capital of a future state.
Israel has annexed East Jerusalem as part of its capital and insists the city remain united.
Six UN Security Council resolutions have denounced or declared invalid Israel’s control of the city.
“We are determined to march together toward Jerusalem, and hopefully we will break through and reach it,” said a masked youth, calling himself Rimawi, as he faced off against soldiers in Ramallah.
Flag-waving crowds neared the Qalandiya crossing out of Ramallah, some of them hurling stones at the security forces, but were forced back when border police sprayed them with foul smelling liquid from a water cannon.
There were also confrontations in Bethlehem, where Palestinians hurled petrol bombs at an Israeli watchtower.
Other events were held in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, were at least three people were wounded in clashes with the Israeli border police, medical sources told Al Jazeera.
Land Day commemorates the killing by security forces of six Arabs in 1976 during protests against government plans to confiscate land in northern Israel’s Galilee region.
Previous remembrances have mostly passed quietly, but Israel decided to reinforce its defences following deadly clashes along the Lebanese and Syrian borders in May that appeared to catch the military off guard.
Palestinian organisers called for peaceful rallies against “the policies and practices of the racist Zionist state” and said solidarity protests were planned in some 80 nations.
“When crowds from 80 countries move towards Jerusalem, they send a strong message to the Israeli occupation that no one can accept what they are doing in Jerusalem,” Ismail Haniyeh, the Gaza leader of the Islamic group Hamas, said.
Israel is wary of growing unrest in the occupied Palestinian Territories, with peace talks stalled for months and Palestinian leaders refusing to return to the negotiating table until Israel halts all Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.
Leading Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail for orchestrating suicide attacks, called on Monday for a new wave of civil resistance in the decades-long quest for statehood.
On high alert along its borders, police were also wary of possible friction within the boundaries of Israel, where the Arab minority was planning protests.
Arabs make up about a fifth of Israel’s total population. Many complain of discrimination.