Israel Readies for Regional Arab Protests

Israel borderIsraeli security forces in riot gear
prepared Friday for Palestinian and Arab demonstrations, deploying at
traditional flashpoints and along Israel’s frontiers and confining West
Bank Palestinians to their territory.


By midday, minor
skirmishes had broken out between protesters and security forces in the
Jerusalem area. Palestinians threw rocks and Israeli troops responded
with stun grenades. No casualties were reported.

Elsewhere things were calm.

Palestinians
were banned from entering from the West Bank except for medical
emergencies, and police barred Palestinian men under 40 from visiting a
volatile Jerusalem holy site. Military deployments along Israel’s
borders were reinforced to repulse any attempts to breach Israel’s
borders as demonstrators did twice last year, touching off deadly
clashes with Israeli troops.

The Land Day
rallies are an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in
the West Bank and Gaza who protest what they say are discriminatory
Israeli land policies. Supporters in neighboring Arab countries also
planned marches near the Israeli frontier.

Security
forces were bracing for trouble in the Jerusalem area and in northern
Israel, where a large portion of Israel’s Arab minority lives. Troops
fanned out along the frontiers with Lebanon and Syria in the north,
Jordan to the east, and Egypt and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the
south.

In southern Lebanon, more than 3,000
Lebanese and Palestinians gathered outside the Crusader-built Beaufort
castle 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Israeli border, waving
Palestinian flags, singing Palestinian national songs and performing the
traditional dabke dance. Security forces kept them from moving any
closer to the border.

Sobhiyeh Mizari, 70, said she always taught her 12 children “never to forget Palestine.”

“We
will liberate our land against the will of Israel and its backers,”
said Mizari, adding that her husband was killed in Israeli shelling of
Lebanon in 1978. “I would have preferred to be at the border today.”

Israeli
soldiers killed at least 38 Arab demonstrators on two other charged
occasions last year after protesters headed for Israel’s northern
frontier. Palestinian and Arab authorities said they would keep marchers
from reaching borders this time to minimize clashes.

Several
dozen Palestinians who live in east Jerusalem waved their national flag
outside Jerusalem’s walled Old City. “One, one homeland!” they chanted.

Because
of restrictions preventing them from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque,
Islam’s third-holiest site, the demonstrators performed their communal
Muslim Friday prayers where they stood, praying on their flags instead
of traditional mats.

They were surrounded by
what appeared to be an equal number of Israeli security forces – police
on horseback, riot police with batons and shields, military police and
regular blue-clad forces.

Many Palestinians,
energized by Arab Spring uprisings that have overturned decades-old
authoritarian regimes, see massive, coordinated marches as one of the
most effective strategies to draw attention to their cause.

“After
the Arab revolutions, there’s awareness of the importance of popular
participation,” said Arab activist Jafar Farah. “This has rattled the
Arab regimes, and now it’s frightening the Israeli government.”

AP correspondents Bassem Mroue from Beirut and Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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