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Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli security forces in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem on Sunday during protests to mark the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, a day many Palestinians call "nakba," meaning "catastrophe."
Dozens were wounded in those protests, which come after Palestinian rival political groups Hamas and Fatah recently signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo, making an already-dormant peace process appear even further away. But attention is already turning to deadly clashes that erupted on Israel's borders with Lebanon and Syria, reportedly resulting in the deaths of eight people.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) accuse Iran of orchestrating two waves of fighting along its northern borders, as Palestinian protesters tried to infiltrate from Syria and Lebanon during nakba protests, reports the Israeli daily Haaretz, citing IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai as saying the protests bore Iran's "fingerprints."
"The IDF confirmed opening fire as scores of Palestinian refugees spilled into the town of Majdal Shams, which runs along Israel's border with Syria. At least four people, apparently Palestinian refugees, were killed," reports Haaretz. "[Mr. Mordechai] also confirmed that the IDF fired at a crowd of Lebanese protesters who approached the border with Israel and began vandalizing the fence. The spokesman had no details on the number of casualties, but Lebanese sources said there had been four fatalities."
In the West Bank, Agence-France Presse reports that at least 24 Palestinians have been injured so far in clashes with Israeli security forces, including five people injured by rubber bullets near the West Bank crossing of Qalandiya. Israeli security forces shot tear gas and rubber bullets at youths hurling rocks at them, reports AFP. One of the protesters was wounded seriously.
The Palestinian news agency, Maan, reports that demonstrators set tires on fire and threw stones at security forces near Birzeit University north of Ramallah, where police responded with rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades.
In Gaza, 19 people were wounded near Erez, the main crossing into Israel. AFP reports that troops fired on protesters who were marching toward the border and throwing rocks at the security forces. The Haartez reports that Israeli forces fired two tank shells toward the demonstrators, and fired several rounds with machine guns. The tank shell landed in an empty field several hundred yards from the protesting youths.
Haaretz also reports that protesters clashed with police in East Jerusalem, near Isaweya. And the Jerusalem Post reports that an Israeli man was injured when protesters threw rocks into his car in A Tur, another East Jerusalem neighborhood. A Palestinian youth was killed in East Jerusalem over the weekend. According to his friends, he was shot from a Jewish settler building, reports Haaretz.
Israel had put extra troops and police on duty in the West Bank to prepare for Sunday’s demonstrations. The Jerusalem Post reports that as many as 10,000 border police officers had been placed in areas where conflict was expected, and that police were instructed to “to avoid using live fire as much as possible, and were provided with large quantities of "less lethal weapons and means for dispersing demonstrations,” according to Haaretz.
The Associated Press reports that Ismail Haniyeh, the Gaza leader of Hamas, said in a dawn sermon that Palestinians mark the occasion “with great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine." Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the US and Israel, refuses to give up violence or recognize Israel’s right to exist, and calls in its charter for the destruction of Israel.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in the West Bank, said Palestinians hope this will be the year "in which our people achieve freedom and independence,” reports the AP. Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has said he will seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the fall.
“I regret that there are extremists among Israeli Arabs and in neighboring countries who have turned the day on which the State of Israel was established, the day on which the Israeli democracy was established, into a day of incitement, violence and rage,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet.