MAROUN AL-RAS: Ten Palestinian protesters were shot dead and 112 others wounded Sunday by Israeli forces along Lebanon’s borders with Israel as thousands of unarmed Palestinians rallied to the frontier to mark the Nakba, the 63rd anniversary of the expulsion from their homeland.
Thousands of Palestinian men, women and children, some wrapped in kaffiyehs, flocked in buses from various Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon to the borders, in a rally they called "the march to return to Palestine." The buses carried the names of Palestinian villages whose residents were displaced in 1948.
Lebanese activists also took part in the march, which counted Hezbollah among its organizers.
Rather than gathering in assigned spots in the border village of Maroun al-Ras, some protesters made their way to the barbed wire along the borders after throwing stones at the heavily deployed Internal Security Forces and Lebanese Army units who tried to prevent their advance.
Israeli troops then opened fire on the demonstrators, who pelted the Israeli soldiers with stones and tried to climb the barbed wire and erect Palestinian flags and kaffiyehs on it. "We sacrifice our souls and blood for Palestine," chanted the protesters.
Demonstrators carried a huge banner reading in Hebrew and in Arabic: "The people want to return to Palestine," echoing slogans raised by Arab protesters who recently toppled autocratic rulers.
The Lebanese Army said in a statement that 10 protesters were shot dead and 112 wounded.
Lebanon filed a complaint against Israel before the U.N. Security Council through its permanent mission in New York to protest the killing and wounding of civilians in Maroun al-Ras.
Lebanon said that the aggression "constituted an act of hostility and stresses again the violation of the Lebanese sovereignty by Israel and its disregard of the U.N. resolutions," the state-run National News Agency said.
Also, Lebanon called upon the U.N. Security Council to assume its responsibilities in preserving international peace and security and pressure Israel to refrain from its aggressive and provocative acts against Lebanon.
The army statement added that the wounded demonstrators, some of whom remain in a critical condition, were transferred to nearby hospitals.
"The march aimed at reminding the new generation that our parents and grandparents were displaced from their land which was taken over by the Jews," one of the demonstrators told The Daily Star. "It is also a message to the West and specifically to the U.S., which calls for freedom and democracy, that we want to return [to our land] in line with [U.N. Security Council] Resolution 194," he added. Tanks and patrols were seen on the Israeli side of the borders in the area of Maroun al-Ras, while the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon organized patrols along the Blue Line.
In the afternoon, Lebanese Army forces managed to disperse the protesters after opening fire in the air.
Deaths were also reported during similar protests which took place in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and in the Gaza Strip.
The NNA said that among the protesters killed were Imad Abu Shaqra, Mohammad Moussa, Mohammad Abu Shalha, Mohammad Saleh, Saleh Abu Rashid and Mohammad Fandi.
The Israeli assault prompted heavy criticism from top Lebanese officials. Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a statement that "on this day, we cannot but strongly condemn Israel’s continuous violation of human rights, and the fact that it faces peaceful movements of the Arab citizens in Lebanon, the Golan and Palestine with killing and murder."
Also, Hariri stressed the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and Lebanon’s commitment to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. "The right of our Palestinian brothers to return to their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital is one of the bases of the joint Arab action, which Lebanon, with all its political and national parties, abides by," Hariri said, as he urged the international community to work on achieving peace in line with the Arab Peace Initiative launched in Beirut in 2002.
Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said in a statement that Israel had deliberately challenged the world, the international community and the U.N. by opening fire on unarmed protesters who demanded the implementation of U.N. resolutions. Mikati said that Israel had delivered through Sunday’s acts a message to the world, saying that it is above accountability and condemnation.
"The excessive Israeli aggression on Lebanon stressed another time that this enemy cannot live and survive on the land of Palestine except through the acts of killing, displacement and threats to its surrounding," the statement added.
Mikati said that Israel’s crimes should motivate the Palestinians to enhance their reconciliation in the face of the "conspiracy that targets the Palestinian cause."
President Michel Sleiman slammed the "criminal Israeli acts against peaceful civilians in south Lebanon, Golan [Heights] and Palestine."
Hezbollah saluted the souls of the "martyrs along with the wounded who fell on the road to Palestine and who sacrificed their dear souls to stress their right of return to their occupied land." The party slammed the "Israeli barbarism," and said that "the bloody and horrible crimes which were committed by the forces of occupation today against the Palestinian people calls upon the international community to assume its responsibility."
Maj. Gen. Alberto Cuevas Asarta, the commander of the peacekeeping force in Lebanon, said that he contacted senior officials of various factions and urged them to exercise restraint in light of the "dangerous incidents" on the border.
Asarta stressed that UNIFIL would keep its forces on the ground to assist the Lebanese Army in line with Security Council Resolution 1701.
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