BEIRUT: Palestinians living in Lebanon will again march to the Blue Line next month in a bid to maintain momentum on issue of their right of return, Hamas and Fatah officials told The Daily Star Sunday.
An event is being planned on June 5 to mark the 54th anniversary of 1967 war, and Hamas committee member Yasser Azzam, who helped organize the May 15 Nabka march in which eleven protesters were killed by Israeli troops, said he expected a big turnout.
“This march on June 5 will be for all Palestinians. Within the organizers, there will be Hamas, Fatah, other Palestinian [parties] and Hezbollah,” Azzam added.
“The aim of this march is to send the Israelis a message, that the Palestinian people have said their word and decided to return to their borders of 1948.”
Israel opened fire on a couple of hundred protesters who approached the Blue Line last week in the most serious fatal incident along the Blue Line since 2006. The attack drew international condemnation and, coupled with similar marches in Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, reignited the issue of Palestinians’ right to return after decades of forced displacement.
The head of Fatah’s press office, Issam al-Halabi, said he expected a repeat of last week’s deaths on the June 5 procession.
“Israel will shoot at protesters again because that is what they are used to and they don’t need a pretext,” he said.
Both Azzam and Halabi said Palestinian Peace Process negotiators should take into account those killed and the popular support of the marches in future talks with Israel.
“This can only be a good thing for the Palestinian cause because if Palestinian negotiators get closer to the Palestinian people they will have more influence in negotiations,” Azzam said.
Halabi added: “Politicians are following the people. They don’t have much say, the people are doing everything and this is a turning point in the Palestinian struggle to return, which has recently surprised everyone, including Fatah.
“The Palestinian negotiators should take advantage of these popular movements so that their stance during negotiations would be backed by popular support. This march [on June 5] will reiterate our right to return,” he said.
Although Halabi announced that there would be another march to the border Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the liberation of south Lebanon, he said any protest close to the Blue Line this week would be unofficial in nature.
Hezbollah, which has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian’s right to return, announced Sunday the cancellation of a memorial service scheduled for Monday that would have paid tribute to those killed along the border at Maroun al-Ras, the sight of last week’s deadly clash. The party did not give a reason for the cancellation.
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon deputy spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said that the peacekeeping force had received no information regarding future southern demonstrations, but reiterated that it would be willing to assist with security if asked by the Lebanese Army.
“The Lebanese Army is in charge of security and law and order in the south,” Tenenti told The Daily Star. “We are in support of the Lebanese Army and assist them at their request.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, in a televised address Thursday, indicated that Washington was seeking a return to Israel’s 1967 borders – a plan that was angrily dismissed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Azzam and Halabi disagreed over the viability of Obama’s news stance on the Peace Process.
“Giving up on the 1948 homeland is completely unacceptable and there should be a national referendum within Palestine to decide what they Palestinian people want,” Azzam said.
Halabi, in contrast, said that a return to 1967 borders could be permissible, should “a guarantee that there would be peace and the United Nations resolution would be respected” be forthcoming.
Both were clear that Palestinians must be granted the right to return home, a topic Prime Minister designate Najib Mikati accused Obama of failing to address Friday.
Azzam said June’s march would send a message to the international community “that the borders it has drawn, especially with Israel and Palestine, are not fixed at all from now on.” – With additional reporting by Van Meguerditchian