RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinians marked the 60th anniversary of their uprooting with rallies, sirens and black flags Thursday an annual ritual that turned even darker this year because of crippling internal divisions, diminishing hopes for independence and the stark contrast to Israel's all-out birthday bash.
The memorial coincided with a high-profile visit to Israel by President Bush as part of Israel's 60th independence day celebration.
Bush's embrace of Israel at a time when the Palestinians were mourning was bound to further harm the tainted U.S. image in the Palestinian areas and across the Arab world. Thursday's events commemorated the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 war over Israel's creation, or what the Palestinians call their "nakba," Arabic for catastrophe.
The anniversary underscored the Palestinians' internal division. For almost a year now, the Islamic militant group Hamas has ruled Gaza, while the West Bank is run by moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas supporters stayed away from West Bank marches, while Hamas police in Gaza prevented rallies by their political rivals, including Abbas' Fatah movement.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands gathered in downtown Manara Square, stood in silence as a siren wailed, then listened to a taped Abbas speech. Some carried black flags.
In Gaza, Hamas planned separate events, including a march toward a sealed Israeli border crossing. Israel's military sent reinforcements to the border and warned that those trying to break through the border fence were risking their lives.
This year's nakba commemorations come at a time when hopes for a peace deal with Israel are increasingly dim.
Nonetheless, Abbas pledge to push ahead with the talks. In his taped speech, he warned Israel that it must not waste a peace opportunity with its continued expansion of settlements on lands the Palestinians seek for their state. "On this beloved land, there are two peoples, one that celebrates its independence and one that suffers its nakba," he said.
Several months of negotiations have produced no tangible results, an Israeli prime minister weakened by a widening corruption probe is seen as unlikely to take daring political steps.
The Palestinian economy remains stagnant, despite a massive injection of foreign aid, in part because of Israel's reluctance to ease its restrictions on movement and trade.
Meanwhile, the separation of Hamas-run Gaza and the Abbas-ruled West Bank is deepening. The rivals are not on speaking terms, and the two territories that were to make up the future state are cut off from one another by Israeli travel bans.
"The level of hopelessness is very strong," said Palestinian pollster Jamil Rabih. "There is nothing on the horizon for us," he added.
The gloomy mood has been compounded by Israeli independence day parties. Last week, Israel celebrated the Hebrew calendar anniversary of its May 14, 1948, founding with fireworks, picnics and air force flyovers. A second round of celebrations followed this week, with the participation of Bush.
On Thursday, Bush was to address Israel's parliament. In a speech prepared for delivery, Bush criticized the deadly tactics of extremist groups, such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas and said he looks toward the day when Muslims "recognize the emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice of their cause." Bush also pledged that the United States has an unbreakable bond with Israel.
Israel's government, meanwhile, came under mounting pressure to try to oust Hamas, after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a medical clinic in an Israeli shopping mall and seriously wounded four people, including a 2-year-old girl.
Israel's intelligence chief warned that within two years, Hamas would be able to extend the range of its rockets to 25 miles and put more Israeli cities at risk.
Wednesday's Grad rocket, which Israeli security officials said was made in Iran, hit the coastal city of Ashkelon, about nine miles from Gaza.
"We have to put an end to the Hamas government," Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Israel Radio. "If that decision is made, it will have clear military significance. The army knows what it has to do, it can be done in many ways that we are not doing now."
Defense officials were meeting Thursday to discuss a response to the latest rocket attack.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has held off for now on ordering a major military offensive in Gaza, in part because Israel would not have a clear exit strategy and because the fighting would likely bring peace talks with the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank to a halt.
However, rocket fire has intensified in recent days, with two Israelis killed in separate attacks on Friday and Monday.