Israeli army kills, wounds dozens of Palestinians in West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza on Nakba Day

President Mahmoud Abbas: Blood of martyrs won’t go in vain

Arab ministerial council in Cairo denounces Israeli repression

Council elects Egypt’s foreign minister Nabil al-Arabi as Arab League chief

Clinton, Blair notify Fayyad Palestinian funds will be released Israeli security forces confronted Palestinian demonstrators marking "Nakba Day" on Sunday at one of the West Bank's most infamous checkpoints.

The Qalandia checkpoint and crossing is a massive security terminal built into Israel's concrete separation wall dividing Ramallah from Jerusalem and the southern West Bank, and is a frequent flashpoint for protests.

On Sunday, as simultaneous demonstrations throughout the region commemorated the 1948 displacement of 700,000 Palestinians during the creation of Israel, Israeli forces crossed the barrier into the Palestinian refugee camp of Qalandia and fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at hundreds of demonstrators who responded with stones in a day-long battle.

Palestinian medics evacuated dozens of people who succumbed to the heavy use of tear gas, including many in the nearby refugee camp not involved in the demonstrations.

"I have not seen this many casualties in one day since the Second Intifada," said Dr. Sami Dar Nakhla, director of the field hospital. In total, more than eighty protesters received treatment, of which twenty were hospitalized - including three paramedics.

Dr. Dar Nakhla said he found evidence of the army using new and brutal forms of crowd control.

"This teargas is toxic, it is the first time I have seen it. It is causing fits, seizures and unconsciousness," he declared.

As many as 40 people were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets, according to reports, and there were numerous violent arrests.

In the late afternoon, undercover Israeli units dressed as Palestinian demonstrators - and at least one dressed as an elderly woman - turned on the crowd and made a series of dramatic arrests at gunpoint as Israeli troops advanced in an unsuccessful bid to end the protest.

Sunday's Nakba Day commemoration included protests elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Palestinian refugee communities in neighboring Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas commented Sunday on the Nakba fatalities was not spilled in vain. They died for the Palestinian people's rights and freedom."

In a special "Nakba Day" speech, Abbas said the Palestinians "can feel their state coming together and that the world supports the end of Israeli occupation."

Abbas commended Palestinian protesters who participated in the day's events: "They have proven that right is stronger than time and that the will of the people has been – and always will be – stronger than the occupation."

He further commended the Palestinian unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, saying that the PA knows Israel is pushing the notion – especially vis-à-vis the US – that the unity means the Palestinians have turned their backs on peace.

Abbas stressed that the Palestinians were committed to peace and to all previously-signed agreements.

Meanwhile, Hamas seemed encouraged by the mass 'Nakba Day' rallies, describing them as "a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Sunday's events "prove that the Palestinian people want to end the occupation and achieve the return (of Palestinian refugees) and that they will not back down, no matter the price," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

"The Palestinian people made it clear today that it was returning to its land," added Zuhri, who said Israel was responsible for killing innocent civilians. He further called on the international community to "condemn Israel's crimes against non-violent protesters."

Fatah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad held an emergency meeting in Gaza Sunday night, to discuss the possible ramifications of the day's events.

The factions decided to declare Monday a day of mourning in Gaza Strip, marked by a general strike. Abbas further ordered all Palestinian flags to fly at half-mast.

On the other hand, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi was unanimously elected Arab League chief on Sunday to succeed Amr Moussa, embarking on a challenging task as political upheaval sweeps the region.

The surprise announcement of his candidacy came after Egypt withdrew diplomat Mustafa al-Fikki from the race just moments before voting for the head of the 22-member body was due to start.

The new Arab League chief stood up to salute the delegates who gave him a standing ovation after Omani Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi, who chaired the session, presented him as the secretary general.

"The Arab world is going through many crises. We must all stand together and find solutions," Arabi said, admitting he did not have a speech prepared.

Fikki, a diplomat under the regime of Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak, had faced strong opposition both on the Egyptian street and from within the league, sources said.

Protesters who had gathered outside the league's headquarters in Cairo to denounce Fikki's nomination broke out into cheers when Arabi's name was announced, an AFP correspondent said.

Moussa, whose last day at work is on Monday, has decided to contest the top job in his native Egypt, in the first presidential election since Mubarak was overthrown in February following 18 days of popular protests.

He said he was "proud" of his 10 years at the Arab League, boosting in particular the domains of development and culture.

For his part, Arabi said he would call on Moussa for advice as he takes on a political assault course, with a region throbbing with conflict and protests as it seeks to replace its decades-old autocracies with democracy.

Arabi "does not have an easy job. We must all stand together and support him in his new job," Oman's bin Alawi said.

And in a sign of the popularity of the choice of Arabi, he said "the Arab world is in good hands," to yet another round of applause.

"We are full of hope that the Arab League under his leadership will open new horizons for Arab cooperation," said Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, Youssef al-Ahmad.

Arab foreign ministers had gathered in Cairo earlier on Sunday to begin discussions on who would succeed Amr Moussa as the new secretary general of the pan-Arab organization.

The new Arab League chief will take on the job after two uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt toppled long time presidents, and as deadly protests sweep the region and a war rages in Libya.

Arabi's nomination had been quickly followed by the news that Qatar withdrew its candidate -- and the only other contender -- Abdurrahman al-Attiya, a former Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general, from the race.

"There is a general consensus among foreign ministers and permanent representatives for Arabi to take over the post of secretary general of the Arab League," Egypt's ambassador to the Arab body, Afifi Abdelwahab, told reporters ahead of the vote.

Arabi, a respected veteran diplomat, had the challenging task of charting a new foreign policy for Egypt after Mubarak's ouster.

A US-educated international law expert, he was one of 15 judges at the UN International Court of Justice from 2001 to 2006, sitting on several international arbitration panels.

He joined the foreign ministry shortly after receiving his doctorate from New York University Law School, rising through the ranks to become Cairo's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and later in New York.

As a young diplomat, Arabi took part in the Camp David negotiations that led to Israel's first peace deal with an Arab country in 1979 and also saw Egypt suspended from the Arab League.

The body's secretary general has customarily been an Egyptian, except when the organization was suspended and its headquarters moved to Tunis, it was headed by Chedli Klibi, a Tunisian.

Meanwhile, Israel will resume the transfer of Palestinian tax revenue funds that it froze after a unity deal between rival Fatah and Hamas, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon said.

"We have unblocked the funds because we have established that the agreement between Fatah and Hamas has had no effect, the security cooperation (between Israel and the Palestinian Authority) continues on the ground," Yaalon told Israeli public radio.

But Yaalon, who also serves as a member of Israel's security cabinet, said he could not rule out the possibility that the funds would be frozen in the future.

"We will continue to verify that the money is not going into the accounts of terrorist organizations. If we believe that is the case, we will stop the transfers again," he said.

Israel announced on May 1 that it would delay the transfer of $80.25 million to the Palestinian Authority, in the wake of a surprise unity deal between the rival Fatah and Hamas Palestinian movements.

At the time, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said it would be up to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to "prove" that the money would not fall into Hamas's hands.

He warned that any "communal fund would finance the terrorist activities of Hamas, and we want it established that there will be two separate funds".

Last night, Fayyad's office said in a statement that they had been informed that the transfers would be resuming by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair, the special envoy for the international Middle East negotiating Quartet.

"Fayyad received phone calls from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Quartet special envoy Tony Blair, who informed him of the Israeli prime minister's decision to end the freeze on Palestinian Authority funds," it said.

Israel's decision to freeze the transfers was criticized across the international community, garnering objections from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and European leaders.

It was also criticized by some members of the Israeli government who judged it hasty and warned it was a violation of Israel's obligation under the 1994 Paris Accords, which require the Jewish state to transfer Palestinian tax and custom revenue it collects at ports and border crossings.

The revenue accounts for around a third of the Palestinian Authority's budget and Fayyad had warned that the freeze left the government unable to pay the salaries of some 150,000 Palestinian government workers.