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Dozens Hurt As Israeli Arabs, Police Clash over Expropriations

The contentious issue of land expropriation has spurred some of the worst clashes in recent years between Israeli Arabs and police.

The clashes began Sunday after Israeli Arab demonstrators gathered to protest the confiscation of land from the town of Umm el-Fahm and the nearby village of Muawiya for use as army training grounds.

The riots on Sunday left some 80 protesters and 27 police injured, according to Israeli sources.

After several hours of quiet, tensions flared again Monday, when police prevented local Arab youths from disrupting traffic on the main highway separating the towns of Hadera and Afula.

Some 40 residents were injured Monday, including Dr. Ahmed Tibi, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s adviser on Israeli affairs. Several residents were also arrested.

The army spokesman confirmed that the army had confiscated some 125 acres for training purposes, but added that it also returned to local residents some 500 acres that had been expropriated in the past.

Sunday’s confrontation began after police tried to dismantle a protest tent at Muawiya. Police charged that the tent was placed provocatively inside the training area’s fire zone. Local residents charged that the confrontation escalated after police burst into a high school in Umm el-Fahm.

Arab youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police, who fired rubber bullets in response.

Elik Ron, an Israeli police commander, compared the violence to the intifada – – the Palestinian uprising in the territories that occurred from 1987 to 1993. He said police had to use rubber bullets after they had been attacked with gasoline bombs.

The riots continued throughout Sunday until the evening hours, bringing traffic to a halt on Wadi Ara Road, a central artery that passes by Umm el-Fahm.

Among the wounded was Sheik Ra’ed Salah Mahajneh, the mayor of Umm el-Fahm, who also is one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

From his hospital bed, Mahajneh said he expected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani to announce that the government had erred and that all the confiscated land would be returned to its owners.

Tawfik Jabarin, an attorney representing Arab farmers in the area, expressed concern that the confiscation of land for military purposes was only the first stage of taking over Arab lands.

“We are concerned that the authorities plan to build Jewish settlements on our lands, as was called for in an old plan to establish a large Jewish town, Eiron, in the area,” Jabarin said.

The confiscation of Arab lands to build the town of Karmiel in the Galilee in the late 70’s led to riots in March 1976, which left six Arab protesters dead.

After Sunday’s violence, army officials agreed to negotiate a compromise with Arab farmers for use of the disputed land.

Yossi Sarid, the leader of Israel’s Meretz Party, called for the establishment of a commission to investigate the land confiscation.

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