Middle East

Thousands of Palestinians mark 'Nakba Day'

Protesters holding banners that read: No peace without return
Image caption More than five million Palestinians and their descendants claim the right to return home

Thousands of Palestinians have attended demonstrations to commemorate what they refer to as the "Nakba" or Catastrophe.

It marks the day after the anniversary of Israel's independence in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said they would never forget "the beginning of our continued hardship".

Many people also celebrated on Tuesday the end of a two-month hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The Israeli authorities agreed concessions over the use of detention without trial and solitary confinement, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners agreeing not to co-ordinate "terrorist activity" from behind bars.

Burning flags

Demonstrators poured onto the streets in several towns and cities across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, chanting slogans against Israel.

In East Jerusalem, protesters burned dozens of Israeli flags and hurled stones at Israeli troops manning security points.

The soldiers responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, demonstrators held black flags showing a key and the word "return" in both English and Arabic. The key symbolises the determination of refugees to return to their homes.

About five million Palestinians and their descendants are scattered in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon, Jordan as well as in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Many live in crowded refugee camps and are denied some of their basic rights.

"Today, our people from all walks of life unite to commemorate the Nakba, which displaced our people - and they continue to suffer as a result," President Abbas said in a speech. "Every Palestinian, man and women, [suffer] whether living under occupation or in the refugee camps."

In Gaza City, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said that "our message to the refugees is that we will not give up the right of return".

"We will not accept any project that abandons the right of return or affects our sacred rights to the homeland," he added.

The demonstrators also celebrated the Palestinian prisoners' deal with Israel, which resulted in the end of a mass hunger strike by more than 1,600 detainees, some of whom were said to have been in a critical condition.

Under the deal, Israel agreed concessions over the policy of "administrative detention", under which people can be detained indefinitely without charge or trial, as well as the use of solitary confinement and restrictions on family visits.

Many of the 4,500 or so Palestinians detained by Israel are suspected of being members of militant groups.

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