Bitter Palestinian rivals marched together Saturday in a rare show of unity as they marked 62 years of displacement in the war surrounding Israel's creation. The commemorations mark the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of their homes during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.
Loyalists of rival groups Hamas and Fatah held Palestinian flags and a giant key symbolic of their hoped-for return as part of the annual commemorations of what they call the "catastrophe," or "nakba" in Arabic. The names of the villages and towns emptied out during the war were written across the key, alongside the slogan "We will return."
Gaza's Hamas rulers invited their Fatah rivals to participate in the march, a rare gesture from the militant group since it seized Gaza and ousted Fatah forces in June 2007. In previous years, different Palestinian factions organized their own events, highlighting their inability to work together on key issues.
No political speeches were made -- an apparent nod to the fundamental ideological differences between Hamas and Fatah. Marchers also were asked not to raise the flags of their parties. Some Fatah women got around the ban by wearing yellow headscarves, the color of their movement.
Some 4.7 million Palestinians refugees and their descendants are scattered across the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, according to UN figures. About one-third still live in UN-supported refugee camps.
The plight of the refugees is one of the most emotionally charged issues for Palestinians and Israel to resolve. Palestinian negotiators have demanded at least partial repatriation. Israel has refused, saying an influx of refugees would dilute Israel's Jewish majority and threaten the existence of the state.
At the Gaza rally, marcher Amina Hasanat, 50, held up tattered documents she said showed her family owned a house and land in what is now the southern city of Beersheba in Israel. "They (the Jews) can go back to where they came from, and we will return to our homes and lands," Hasanat said.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinian motorists and pedestrians halted as a one-minute siren wailed to mark the anniversary. Smaller marches took place in other West Bank towns and in east Jerusalem.
Also Saturday, the body of a 78-year-old Palestinian man was found shot dead next to the border with Israel, said Dr Adham Abu Salmiyeh of the northern Gaza hospital Kamal Adwan. An Israeli military spokesman said forces confirmed shooting a man who approached the border fence on Friday evening.
Israel has declared a swath of land on the Gaza side of the border as a no-go zone, and those approaching it risk getting shot by Israeli patrols. Israel says it's a security measure, to prevent infiltration and attacks by Gaza militants.