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Amid talk of intifada, Jordan's Palestinians demand right of return

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Thousands of refugees demand to be allowed to return to their ancestral homes
  • "We are no longer willing to wait," one demonstrator says
  • The rally is largely peaceful

Amman, Jordan (CNN) -- About 6,000 Palestinian refugees gathered Friday near Jordan's border with Israel to mark the founding of the Israeli state and to demand to be allowed to return to their ancestral homes.

The largely peaceful rally was organized by the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, trade unions and other political movements to rail at the Israeli state's creation, known to Palestinians as the Nakbeh or "catastrophe," so called because of the resulting loss of land and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at Israel's creation and during the 1967 war. Their fate and that of their descendants has proven to be a key stumbling block to any Mideast peace.

For most Palestinians the eventual return to their former homes in what is now Israel remains a fundamental requirement ,while Israelis argue that any large-scale return of refugees would spell the end of the Jewish majority state.

Friday's rally was held at the site of a major battle in the 1967 war, 3 kilometers from the border.

Participants were bused into the area from refugee camps across Jordan, which is home to 1.8 million Palestinian refugees and, with Egypt, is one of two Mideast countries that have signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Inspired by the recent rapprochement between the Hamas and Fatah factions and the ongoing "Arab Spring," participants said that a Palestinian state guaranteeing anything less than a full right of return to all 4.8 million U.N.-registered refugees worldwide would be "unacceptable."

"We have been waiting in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq," said Abdullah Abu Jared, a 22-year-old resident of Baqaa, the Hashemite Kingdom's largest refugee camp. "After watching what happened in Egypt and throughout the Arab world, we are no longer willing to wait."

Um Mohammed, a 60-year-old mother of eight who traveled more than 200 kilometers from the country's northern Irbid Camp to attend the rally, said that, after three generations of living in limbo, she believed this could be the year she will return to her home village outside Jerusalem.

"Instead of fighting each other, the Palestinian people are finally united; we are finally ready to take Palestine back with both hands," she said.

With the Palestinian leadership set to announce unilaterally an independent state in September, many of Jordan's refugees said they plan to return home, even if home falls outside the borders of a Palestinian state.

"Khaled Meshaal and Mahmoud Abbas can talk of 1967 borders, but we are here to liberate all of Palestine from the river to the sea," Amer Abu Zaid, an Amman-based geologist, said of the leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, respectively.

The demonstration was marred by minor clashes when a group of pro-Hamas youths chanting "Revolution! Revolution!" and "We are going to Jerusalem, and we will be martyred in the millions" attempted to break from the crowd and march to the Israeli border. But their fellow protesters prevented them from advancing.

Ahmed, who declined to give his last name, said that the youth movement represented a Facebook generation inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt and no longer willing to wait for diplomacy and road maps to resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees.

"The old generation believes in empty speeches as the answer to everything," the 22-year-old said. "This is a new era. There is no more fear; we are ready to act."

Friday's rally, which featured a strong security presence, ended without incident.

According to organizers, the "right of return rally" is to continue through Sunday, to coincide with the start of the Facebook-announced Third Palestinian Intifada.