JERUSALEM – Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad reprimanded Israel on Tuesday for triumphantly celebrating its 60th birthday before having reached a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Such festivities are inappropriate and offensive as long as Israel rules over the Palestinians, the usually mild-mannered Fayyad said.
His comments during a speech marking the flip side of Israel's independence — the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 war over Israel's creation. Palestinians call it their "nakba," or catastrophe.
"I direct my speech ... to the people of Israel, to say, 'How can you?"' Fayyad said. "How can you celebrate and the Palestinian people are suffering from your settlements and the crimes of your settlers and the siege of your state and the conduct of your occupying army?"
"There is no meaning to celebration if we don't celebrate together, with a fair peace," he added.
In Gaza on Tuesday, Israeli aircraft attacked a group of Palestinian militants firing mortar shells at Israel, killing one militant. Israel's army confirmed the attack, and Gaza's ruling militant Hamas group said the dead man was one of its members.
The airstrike came a day after an Israeli woman was killed by a rocket attack on southern Israel. Gaza militants routinely fire rockets and mortars at southern Israel, and Israel often responds with deadly incursions and airstrikes in Gaza.
In Jerusalem, international Mideast envoy Tony Blair said Israel has agreed to remove several West Bank checkpoints and ease the flow of traffic through others.
However, only one checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Hebron, is to be removed for sure, later this week. Israel is looking into dismantling several others but has not committed to a specific date, he said.
Blair spoke at a news conference almost a year after being named Mideast envoy by the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations. He remained hopeful, saying he believes Israel is negotiating in good faith.
Palestinians will hold their "nakba" memorials Thursday. On Tuesday evening, thousands of supporters of the militant group Islamic Jihad marched in Gaza City, some holding symbolic wooden keys to homes they left behind.
Thursday's plans include flying thousands of black balloons in a show of mourning, rallies in the West Bank and Gaza, and the screening of films about Palestinian history.
Hamas wants supporters in Gaza to march toward a main border crossing with Israel. Gaza has been virtually sealed since the violent Hamas takeover a year ago.
Arab students at Israeli universities in Haifa and Jerusalem plan nakba marches. In Jerusalem, artists plan to exhibit 3,000 figurines, meant to represent Palestinian refugees.
During the 1948 Mideast war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted and scattered across the region. Along with their descendants, they now total about 4.5 million, according to U.N. figures.
Commemorations are meant to direct attention to the unresolved plight of Palestinian refugees and to encourage young Palestinians to learn their history, activists said. The fate of refugees is a key issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"Palestinians have been dispossessed long enough, and how many years do they have to wait before they come home?" said Huwaida Arraf, a 31-year-old Palestinian activist in Ramallah.