BEIRUT: Palestinian refugees will stage protests Sunday along Israel’s border with neighboring Arab states to commemorate the 1967 war, a senior Fatah commander in Lebanon said, while a Lebanese Army source told The Daily Star the army might prevent protesters from reaching the frontier.
“It is going to be a peaceful march toward the border stretching from the [coastal town of] Naqoura to [the town of] Khiam,” Fatah commander Munir Maqdah told The Daily Star Tuesday.
Asked about the possibility of protesters becoming targets of Israeli forces, Maqdah said the Palestinian people were ready to make sacrifices to return to Palestine. “Our people are ready. The road to Palestine is covered with thorns, [but] Palestinians did not hesitate to step on land mines on May 15 on their way toward Palestine,” Maqdah added. “We are fed up with 63 years of displacement.”
Eleven Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops on May 15 in the border village of Maroun al-Ras, as thousands of unarmed Palestinians marched to the frontier to mark 63 years since the Nakba in 1948, when they were expelled from their homeland. The angry crowd threw stones at Lebanese Army troops who tried to prevent them from reaching the border.
Palestinian protesters were also reportedly killed during similar marches in the Gaza Strip and Syria.
Facebook campaigns are calling for Arabs to march to the Israeli border in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza Sunday to commemorate the Naksa, or the 1967 war, which saw Israeli troops invade the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, Syria’s Golan heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Maqdah called on the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon and the Lebanese Army to guarantee the safety of protesters. He said similar marches would take place in neighboring Arab countries and called on Palestinians in the diaspora to participate in the march as well.
The Fatah commander said a committee tasked with preparing for the protest would soon issue a detailed plan.
But a Lebanese Army source told The Daily Star the military might keep protesters from approaching the border. “The army has reservations about allowing protesters to reach the border … We will not allow a repeat of what happened on Nakba Day, in terms of the killings of Palestinians,” he added.
The source said protesters might be allowed to demonstrate as close as the southern village of Khiam, about 4 kilometers from the Israeli border, but not any closer.
“From Khiam, they [the protesters] will be able to see Palestine and express their opinion [without getting into trouble],” the source added.
UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh told The Daily Star that the force had no official confirmation so far about the march in its area of operations, adding that it was the Lebanese Army’s responsibility to secure the safety of protesters, “although we always stand ready to assist the LAF [the Lebanese Army], if they so request, within the scope of our mandate under Resolution 1701.”
“UNIFIL’s operations are geared toward tasks mandated to us in relation to the cessation of hostilities. In that context, we always urge the parties to be very cautious in any activities along the Blue Line because of its sensitivity, and we ask that they exercise utmost restraint in responding to any developments along the Blue Line,” the UNIFIL official added.
Following its weekly meeting under Sidon MP Fouad Siniora, the Future bloc expressed its respect for the demonstrators’ freedom of expression. However, the bloc said Lebanon was committed to Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s summer 2006 war against Lebanon, and urged the government and security authorities to take necessary measures to prevent the south from turning into a field for regional struggle or for activities which Israel could exploit.
Meanwhile, Palestine’s Ambassador to Lebanon Abdullah Abdullah voiced desire to prevent bloodshed during the protest, saying the march is to express rejection of the occupation.
“Blood is saved for battles and this is not a battle. We want to express our rejection of the Israeli occupation and crimes and our dismay over the Arab position which has not progressed since the Naksa,” he told The Daily Star.
But the diplomat stressed that the embassy was not involved in organizing the event, saying this was the responsibility of Palestinian factions.
Abdullah said that in the previous march in May, approaching the border had not been part of the plan. “But you cannot control the feelings of people who have been oppressed and upset for all these years, especially when they see their occupied land,” Abdullah said.
Yasser Azzam, a Hamas movement official and a member of the committee which is organizing the march, said that stronger measures to prevent a repeat of the previous incident would be taken depending on the location of the march.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted some Israeli army officials as saying that an immense Israeli army force would deploy along its borders with Syria and Lebanon to prevent a repeat of the incidents during the Nakba march. – With additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari