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Israel Uses Police, Curfews to Stifle Land Day Protests

From Reuters

Police moved into Israeli Arab villages and the army sealed off the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday in an attempt to stifle Land Day protests against the confiscation of Arab territory.

Thousands of Israeli Arabs demonstrated and some youths burned tires and displayed outlawed Palestinian flags to commemorate the police killings in 1976 of six Arabs protesting against the government seizure of Arab land.

Arab leaders said they are also concerned about the settlement of Soviet Jewish immigrants in Arab areas.

For the first time since the annual protests began, heavily armed police entered Arab villages inside Israel to prevent youths from hurling stones and starting fires. In the past, police have waited on the outskirts of villages, believing their presence would provoke clashes.

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Also for the first time, Israeli Arab leaders did not call a commercial strike this year for fear of provoking unrest. Arab leaders said police arrested about 25 activists in the week before Land Day.

The government, afraid of an upsurge of violence during Land Day, which coincided with the first day of the Jewish Passover holiday and the Easter weekend, canceled police leave and barred all 1.7 million Palestinians in the occupied territories from entering Israel.

Originally an Israeli Arab protest, Land Day has been adopted by the Palestinians as a symbol of their nearly 40-month-long revolt against Israeli rule. Israel has about 650,000 Arab citizens.

The army placed a curfew on the entire Gaza Strip and many towns in the West Bank, confining more than 1 million people to their homes.

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