Thousands rally in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon for 'Nakba Day'

Marches planned for Sunday in Gaza and along Israel’s northern and eastern borders.

Nakba Day protests_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Nakba Day protests_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Thousands rallied Friday in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon ahead of “Nakba Day,” an annual day of mourning to commemorate Israel’s creation 63 years ago. Marches were held in the Jordanian capital and in the Jordan Valley, Egyptians protested outside Israel’s diplomatic offices in Cairo and Alexandria and Palestinian refugees demonstrated in Lebanon’s capital Beirut.
Five hundred people, many of Palestinian origin, marched in Amman demanding Palestinian sovereignty and the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to territory that is now in Israel, the Associated Press reported. Some of the protesters brandished keys they said once opened doors to homes left behind in what is now Israel.
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Some 5,000 protesters gathered north of the Allenby Bridge border crossing, with similar protests planned for Sunday, Israel Radio reported.
Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper reported organizers expected 50,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to march Sunday towards the villages of Bint Jbail and Maroun al-Ras on the Israeli border. The Israel Defense Forces has bolstered its troop presence along the northern border in anticipation of the march.
In Egypt, thousands rallied in Cairo in a Facebook-organized campaign aimed at marching all the way to Gaza.
“Egypt is Palestine. All Arab nations are Egypt,” a 20-year-old law student told the AP.
“This protest is not about forming an army and heading to Gaza. It is about pressuring our officials to support the Palestinians’ demands.”
In Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, thousands marched to the Israeli consulate after dawn prayers at one of the main mosques while chanting, “With our souls, with our blood, we redeem you, Palestine.”
“We are here today to show our support for the Palestinian cause,” said Muhammad Abdel-Salam, a 22-year-old activist on Friday.
“The victory of our revolution will not be complete without the liberation of Palestine,” he said.
Demonstrators said they hope their military rulers do more to help Palestinians following the overthrow of the country’s president Hosni Mubarak. Many Egyptians felt Mubarak, a US ally, was too soft on Israel and want their new government to take a much stronger pro-Palestinian stand.
The gatherings in Cairo, Alexandria and El-Arish come amidst preparations by activists to organize a march to the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
Egyptian authorities have banned the march, saying the timing was inappropriate given ongoing interfaith tensions in Egypt.
The government deployed army and police forces to prevent demonstrators from crossing the Suez Canal to Sinai, the route they would have to take to reach the Gaza Strip, witnesses said.
“We are demonstrating to show that the Palestinian cause is in the heart of all Muslims,” said Sameh Abu Bakr, an agriculture engineer, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which was decked with red, white, black and green Palestinian flags.
The square was at the epicenter of the February uprising that drove Mubarak from power.
One sign read: “The people want the opening of the Rafah crossing – fully and for good.”
Egypt has said it plans to open the crossing into Gaza permanently, but has yet to do so. Mubarak was accused of participating in an Israeli blockade on Gaza by shutting the border.
“We want to show the world the inhumane way Israel treats Palestinians,” said demonstrator Hassan Yusri, standing next to the Rafah sign.
Hundreds also marched in the Sinai resort town of El- Arish after Friday prayers, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency quoted Mustafa Reda Amin, the secretary-general of a youth alliance that helped oust Mubarak, saying organizers contracted 20 buses to take demonstrators to Sinai.
One Egyptian security source said the authorities had decided to restrict entry to Sinai to commercial trucks and residents of the Sinai Peninsula and stepped up security on all access points to Sinai.
“We want to prevent large numbers of people from entering Sinai for the day of the Great March,” one source said.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. The interim military council now running the country has pledged to honor the peace treaty.
Reuters contributed to this report.