A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during the protest in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters
Palestinians on Wednesday marked the 71st anniversary of their mass displacement during the 1948 war around Israel's creation with protests across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Thousands of people streamed to the Gaza-Israel frontier as Hamas group, which controls Gaza, announced a general strike, closing schools and public institutions to allow for a large turnout.
For a year, Hamas has staged protests every Friday along the perimeter fence dividing Israel and Gaza, demanding an end to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
More than 60 Palestinians were killed at last year's demonstration, which coincided with the opening of the new US Embassy in contested occupied Jerusalem.
This year's demonstration, however, comes two weeks after a cease-fire was reached to end a fierce two-day round of fighting. A Qatari envoy, who has been helping mediate the cease-fire, has urged Hamas to keep Wednesday's demonstration restrained.
The demonstrations were marking what is known as the "nakba," or "catastrophe," in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel's establishment.
Today, there are an estimated 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
The fate of the refugees is one of the core issues of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel rejects demands for a mass return of refugees to long-lost homes, saying it would threaten the country's Jewish character.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of people marched from the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to a rally downtown, demanding the right to return to lost properties in what is now Israel.
"We will return, no matter how long it takes" read one of the signs.
Sirens also wailed across the West Bank at noon, and smaller demonstrations took place, in expressions of sadness.
Israel said on Thursday its aircraft struck a Hamas military site in the Gaza Strip overnight after balloons carrying firebombs and explosives were launched from the Palestinian enclave.
Explosives tied to balloons and kites first emerged as a weapon in Gaza during intense protests in 2018, when the makeshift devices drifted across the border daily, causing thousands of fires in Israeli farms and communities.
The army said that in addition to cross-border attacks with explosives and incendiary devices suspended from balloons, dozens of people had also "instigated riots along the Gaza Strip security fence" on Sunday evening.
The Israeli army said the strikes were a response to explosive balloons launched by Hamas-affiliated group over the border, and attempts by Palestinian protesters to throw explosives at the Israel-Gaza perimeters fence and soldiers stationed along it.
"In view of the declining cases of corona, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal approved the proposal," the official, who declined to be identified, said of a suggestion from authorities that the weekend curfew be scrapped.
The winds were dust stirring and resulted in a decrease in horizontal visibility to less than 300 metres at times over the open areas, especially the north and east.
At least 20 confirmed or preliminary positive cases were found in a public housing block in the Kwai Chung neighbourhood, said health chief Sophia Chan. "Clearly there is a community outbreak and the situation is worrying," Chan told reporters.