x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Day of mourning called in Lebanon's refugee camps after Nakba demonstration deaths

Ten people died when Israeli army opened fire on several hundred protesters as they moved towards the fence that marks where Israeli territory begins, during march to mark when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in 1948.

Mourners in the funeral procession of the protesters who killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on Sunday at Palestinian crowds who approached the northern Israeli border with Lebanon, at Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon, yesterday. Mohammed Zaatari / AP Photo
Mourners in the funeral procession of the protesters who killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on Sunday at Palestinian crowds who approached the northern Israeli border with Lebanon, at Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon, yesterday. Mohammed Zaatari / AP Photo

BEIRUT // Thousands of Palestinians across Lebanon were in mourning yesterday, as funerals began for the 10 people shot dead by the Israeli army during a demonstration on the Lebanon-Israel border on Sunday.

Leaders from Lebanon's 12 refugee camps, where more than 250,000 Palestinians reside, announced a day of mourning for those who died. A general strike was called and schools remained shut, as the residents of several camps buried the dead.

"When many people died on the border we decided to suspend schools for a day and to have a strike to express our anger about what happened [on Sunday]," said Abu Rabieh Shihabi, Hamas's representative in northern Lebanon, who is based in Badawi camp near Tripoli. "We condemned this Israeli aggression against the peaceful protestors."

Organisers of the "Return to Palestine" march estimate that more than 30,000 people descended on Lebanese town of Maroun al Ras, which overlooks Lebanon's border with Israel, to commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe. The annual event marks when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in 1948 during the violence surrounding the creation of the state of Israel.

The shootings occurred when several hundred protesters moved into the valley and towards the fence that marks where Israeli territory begins. More than 130, including some Lebanese, were also injured in the Israeli attack.

Yassir Azzam, one of the organisers of Sunday's demonstration, said at least five funerals were being held yesterday in camps including Burj al Shamali, Al Bass, Ain al Hilweh and Mieh Mieh.

"We have sorrow for the murdered people, but we also insist on our right of return. This is the first step on the way to Palestine," Mr Azzam said yesterday. "Israel is fully responsible and they shot people who had no weapons."

According to the Lebanese state National News Agency, by yesterday most of the injured had been released from hospital. However one man, identified as Munib Masri, was transferred to the American University of Beirut Hospital, in a "critical situation".

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's Shiite movement Hizbollah, issued a statement yesterday in which he praised the "courage" of the protesters. Members of Hizbollah, which has a large presence in the south of Lebanon, were present during the demonstration in Maroun al Ras on Sunday.

"We must bow before the courage, the bravery, of those who protested yesterday at Lebanon and Syria's borders with occupied Palestine, who faced the tyranny of the enemy with bare chests and their heads held high," Mr Nasrallah said. "You, the honourable, have given the nakba new meaning."

Michael Williams, the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, spoke of the most serious incident on the border since the 2006 Lebanon war.

"I deplore and deeply regret the loss of life... I urge all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and to fully respect Security Council resolution 1701," he said, referring to the agreement that ended the 2006 war.

In response to the attack on Sunday, Lebanon filed an official complaint with the UN Security Council, according to the National News Agency, and urged the organisation to "pressure Israel to abandon its aggressive and provocative policy towards Lebanon and holding it responsible for attacking and killing civilians".

Yesterday, Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestine refugees, also deplored the killings in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories.

"These sad events demonstrate once more the vulnerability of the Palestine refugees we serve," he said in a statement. "They underline the need for a just and durable solution, based on UN resolutions, to resolve the plight of those who have endured statelessness, exile and dispossession for 63 years."

Mr Shihabi, a 46-year-old father of four, was among the thousands of demonstrators on Sunday, many of whom clambered up hill-sides in order to reach Maroun al Ras.

"My grandfather and father always talked about our village, Lubia, about what it was like...This is in my soul and my heart," he said. "Palestine is part of my body, like my hand or my leg. I have to return back."

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse