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Palestinians march in mourning ritual

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinians marked their mass displacement that followed Israel's creation with a blend of sadness and hope Tuesday, stopping in their tracks for a mournful siren but also flashing victory signs and carrying banners proclaiming their right of return.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their villages during the war that established the Jewish state in 1948, an event they commemorate every year as their "Nakba," or catastrophe. Today, surviving refugees and their descendants number several million who are scattered across the globe, many still living in camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and surrounding Arab countries.

In three West Bank areas north and south of Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinian stone-throwers clashed with Israeli troops who fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 30 people were hurt by the rubber bullets and dozens suffered from tear gas inhalation.

The 64th anniversary of the Nakba comes after nearly two decades of failed efforts to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state with Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been unable to find common ground to renew talks that broke down in 2008.

Abbas says Israel must halt settlement construction on occupied land sought by the Palestinians. Netanyahu says talks should resume without preconditions.

The Nakba Day commemorations highlighted the political disagreements between Abbas and his main political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, which seized Gaza from him in 2007.

Abbas seeks a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem -- territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War -- but has been vague on the fate of the refugees.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations never got down to details on the issue, though there is broad opposition in Israel to a mass resettlement of Palestinians, which would rob Israel of its Jewish majority.

In Ramallah, the seat of Abbas' self-rule government, thousands marched to the city's central Manara Square. During a one-minute siren, many stood at attention and flashed V-for-victory signs.

In the biblical town of Bethlehem, hundreds of schoolchildren wearing black T-shirts with 1948 printed on them marched through the streets, waving black flags that read "64 years of Nakba."


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