Israel on alert for Land Day marches
Jerusalem - Israeli police and the army were on high alert on Friday ahead of a raft of demonstrations and marches planned in Israel and the Palestinian territories to mark Land Day, officials said.
Land Day is held every year on March 30 to mark the deaths of six Arab Israeli protesters at the hands of Israeli police and troops during mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in Galilee.
This year, there have been numerous calls for peaceful demonstrations in Israel, the occupied territories and in neighbouring countries, where supporters have been urged to march towards the borders.
The main march will take place in the Galilee town of Deir Hanna, with around a dozen other demonstrations planned after the weekly Friday prayers across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in annexed east Jerusalem.
In anticipation of mass protests, the Israeli army imposed a 24-hour closure on the territories late on Thursday, barring Palestinians from entering Israel excepted for humanitarian reasons or medical emergencies.
Palestinians and their supporters in Lebanon and Jordan have said they are planning to march towards the borders as part of a so-called "global march on Jerusalem".
Israeli police chief Yohanan Danino has raised the nationwide level of alert and urged local Arab leaders to ensure all events were co-ordinated with the police, and to "prevent extremists from causing provocations".
Police also imposed an age limit on worshippers attending Friday prayers at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, barring all men except locals over the age of 45. There was no restriction on women.
Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said thousands of police are being deployed across the country, with an emphasis on Arab areas in the north and on Jerusalem.
Israel's Magen David Adom emergency services issued a statement saying it was putting all of its ambulances on a heightened state of alert.
Israel is hoping to avoid the bloody confrontations that took place last May when thousands of Palestinians gathered in the West Bank, Gaza and on Israel's borders with Lebanon and Syria to protest on Nakba Day marking the anniversary of Israel's creation in 1948.
Troops opened fire on protesters trying to breach the line from Syria and Lebanon, killing 12 and injuring hundreds. More than 120 people were also injured by gunfire in similar protests in northern Gaza.
In a statement to mark Land Day, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israel's policy of denying access to land was "at the heart of the conflict".
"For 44 years this policy of colonialism, which has prolonged the occupation, has been the main source of violence in the region and the single most menacing threat to the two-state solution," he said.