Arab Israelis, Palestinians mark 'Land Day'

Arab Israelis and Palestinians rallied on Saturday, some clashing with Israeli forces, to commemorate Land Day, marking the 1976 killing of six Arab Israelis protesting plans to confiscate Arab land.

Thousands marched from the centre of the northern Israeli town Sakhnin to the central event at the memorial site dedicated to the six, killed by Israeli forces during mass protests against plans to confiscate Arab land in the Galilee region.

They waved Palestinian flags and shouted slogans honouring the dead and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Sakhnin mayor Mazen Ghanaim paid tribute to the "martyrs" and called on the people to continue fighting for their lands during a ceremony capping the day's event.

Some 1,000 people also rallied at the Shoket junction in Israel's southern Negev region, expressing support for Palestinian prisoners and a Palestinian state.

They also protested the state's plan to resettle tens of thousands of desert-dwelling Bedouin in permanent townships and take thousands of hectares (acres) now inhabited by the Bedouins.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza also held rallies, some erupting into clashes with Israeli forces.

In the contested West Bank zone east of Jerusalem, referred to as E1 and known locally as Bab Al-Shams, a delegation of 20 Palestinians, including prime minister Salam Fayyad, planted olive trees to mark Land Day.

Fayyad's office quoted him as saying that the tree is a symbol "that our people's presence in Bab Al-Shams and every corner of our land will remain deeply rooted, just like olive trees are rooted in our land."

Twice in recent weeks, Palestinians have formed encampments in the deeply sensitive E1 zone, where experts say construction of Jewish settlements would isolate Arab east Jerusalem and cut the West Bank in two.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said police dispersed the delegation that gathered there and uprooted the trees.

A few dozen Palestinians held a rally outside Jerusalem's Old City while on the nearby Mount of Olives some 200 others planted trees on land belonging to a Palestinian family. Samri said three people were arrested for trespassing on state-owned land.

At the West Bank Qalandia checkpoint near Jerusalem nearly 200 Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas.

And near Qalqiliya some 20 Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers, wounding two of them. The soldiers responded with tear gas.

Israeli security forces and Palestinians also clashed at Beit Ummar, near Hebron, and at Al-Khader in the Bethlehem region. There were no injuries or arrests although security forces fired tear gas at stone throwers.

Dozens of people also rallied in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya while further south in Khan Yunis olive trees were planted in commemoration.

Sami Abu Zuhri of Hamas, which rules Gaza, told people in Khan Yunis the Islamist movement would continue "to liberate all of Palestine," and "continue to strike inside Israel."

In Rafah, near Gaza's southern border with Israel, some 500 Palestinians took part in a rally during which some threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire that wounded one person.

Israel boosted security in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Friday "following information that groups of Palestinians were ready to engage in violent demonstrations," Samri said.

bur-mab-jjm/hkb