RAMALLAH, Palestine: Israeli border police shot dead two Palestinians Thursday during a protest in the West Bank marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe” of the Jewish state’s creation.
Security and medical sources told AFP that Musaab Nuwarah, 20, and Mohammad Udeh, 17, died in a Ramallah hospital after being shot in the chest during a protest near Ofer jail to demand the release of thousands of Palestinians held by Israel.
The latest fatalities brought the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank this year to 11.
Israel’s military confirmed the clashes with around 150 protesters, and said soldiers “used anti-riot methods and rubber bullets.”
At Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, protesters set fire to tires and hurled stones at border police who responded with “riot dispersal means,” an army spokesman told AFP, referring to the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.
Other Palestinian rallies for Nakba Day were held in the northern city of Nablus, in Hebron in the south of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem where police said there were some arrests after clashes.
Hundreds of people, some carrying Palestinian flags or banners calling for refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes, marched in the Gaza Strip near the Erez crossing with Israel.
In Ramallah, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has his headquarters, people stood in silence on the streets for 66 seconds while sirens wailed.
“On this 66th anniversary of the Nakba, we hope this year will be the one in which our long suffering ends,” Abbas said in a speech broadcast on Palestinian TV and radio late Wednesday.
“It is time to put an end to the longest occupation in modern history and time for Israel’s leaders to understand that there is no other homeland for the Palestinians but Palestine,” he said.
Following nearly nine months of fruitless U.S.-sponsored peace talks, Israel suspended its participation in negotiations last month when Abbas’ Palestine Liberation Organization announced a unity deal with the Islamist movement Hamas which runs Gaza.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Abbas in London Wednesday, was due to have an informal meeting with Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni in the British capital Thursday, a U.S. official said.
Premier Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday accused the Palestinians of teaching their children that Israel “should be made to disappear.”
The Israeli answer was to “continue building our country and our unified capital, Jerusalem,” said the rightwing premier.
“Another answer to the Nakba is our passing the Nation Law, clarifying to the world that Israel is the state of the Jewish people,” he said in remarks relayed by his office.
Netanyahu has vowed to enshrine Israel’s status as the national homeland of the Jewish people in law.
He has repeatedly demanded Palestinian recognition of Israel’s status, but Abbas has flatly refused.
In 1948, more than 760,000 Palestinians – now estimated to number more than 5 million with their descendants – were driven out of their homes.
Around 160,000 stayed behind and became Israeli citizens.
They and their descendants currently number about 1.4 million people, or some 20 percent of Israel’s population.
Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erakat, in a commentary published in Israel’s left-leaning daily Haaretz, said the PLO had officially recognized Israel’s right to exist since 1988.
“We are not asking for Hebrew not to be an official language or Jewish holidays not to be official holidays. The character of Israel is not for us to define,” he wrote.
But “the concept of an exclusively Jewish state necessarily implies the negation of the Nakba.”