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Jordanians protest for Palestinian right of return

By Dale Gavlak

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 13 2011 7:40 a.m. MDT

An Egyptian prays on an Arabic slogan reads " Jerusalem for us, Palestine is an Arabic land " during a protest against Israel's closure of Gaza at Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising, in Cairo, Egypt Friday, May 13, 2011.

Amr Nabil, Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan — Heeding a call from Palestinian Facebook organizers, several hundred Jordanians took to the streets of the capital Friday demanding a sovereign Palestinian state and that refugees be given the right to return home.

Palestinian youth groups called for protests in the West Bank and nearby Arab countries to mark the anniversary of the May 15, 1948, creation of the Jewish state.

Palestinians call the anniversary the "day of catastrophe" because of the refugee crisis that accompanied the creation of Israel.

About 500 protesters marched in Amman's downtown market district, some wearing Palestinian black and white kefiyahs or headscarves and holding keys to family homes left behind.

Jordanians and demonstrators of Palestinian origin also demanded that the Israeli ambassador be sent home.

Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state.

In Cairo, thousands rallied in support of the Palestinians, beginning a Facebook-generated campaign aimed at marching on the borders of the Palestinian territories.

Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood backed Friday's demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square but does not favor a march to the borders. On Thursday Egypt's ruling Military Council called on organizers to cancel the march and to concentrate instead on local issues.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations are not unusual in Jordan or Egypt, but gatherings and marches solicited on Facebook are. Organizers are apparently inspired by the Arab uprisings in Egypt and other Arab countries that were heavily dependent on social network sites.

In Jordan, protesters chanted, "The people want to liberate Palestine."

They also shouted, "The people want to end Wadi Araba," a reference to Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

The slogans also reflected changes in the political climate, including the ousting of long-term leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and efforts by the Palestinians to get the United Nations to recognize their independence. "1948 and 1967 are the catastrophes, but 2011 is the Revolution of the Return," some of the protesters' signs read.

"We want to tell the world that Palestine and its refugees are not to be forgotten," said 21-year-old dentistry student Omar Hassan, whose family hails from Bethlehem in the West Bank. "It's time the world recognizes that the Palestinian case has to be solved once and for all."

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced during the Israeli-Arab wars in 1948 and 1967, and the fate of nearly four million Palestinian refugees and their descendants is one of the thorniest issues in the Middle East conflict.

Palestinian refugees live in a number of countries in the Middle East. Jordan hosts the largest number, and the refugees and their descendants are estimated to number nearly two million.

The Palestinians have long maintained that the refugees have a moral and legal right to return to what was once Palestine - including land which is now Israel. But Israel has argued that granting the right of return would compromise the country's identity as the world's only Jewish state.

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