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Israel celebrates Independence Day amid uncertainty over Mideast peace
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel celebrated the 52nd anniversary of its independence Wednesday amid conflict and lack of progress in the peace process.
With the deadline for a framework agreement between Israelis and Palestinians set to expire on Saturday, there is no sign that the two sides are near an agreement.
The Palestinian peace track has stumbled through various deadlocks while attempts to reach a peace agreement with Lebanon and Syria have failed.
Tit-for-tat exchanges between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas across Israel's northern border have complicated preparations for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal of troops from southern Lebanon set for July.
Behind the cheerful mood of Independence Day, with its fireworks and street parties, the lack of progress towards peace has created a sense of pessimism in Israel. The deadlock has also led to an increasing dissatisfaction with the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who promised radical change after his election 12 months ago.
"Mr. Barak has turned out not to be a radical, not to be a revolutionary ... and he is having some difficulty with the peace process and therefore, a year later, there is a sense that not much has changed," said Israeli political analyst Chami Shalev.
Celebrations marred by clashes
Israel's Independence Day celebrations were marred by several clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians.
In the West Bank village of Deir al-Hatab, witnesses said that six Palestinians were injured Wednesday as about 200 villagers protested Independence Day, which Arab Israelis call "Nakba," the Arab word for catastrophe.
In disturbances near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, five Palestinians were injured when Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated metal bullets at a crowd protesting for the release of the 1,650 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
Across the border in Lebanon, the end of the Israeli occupation of the south of the country is viewed with uncertainty.
Recent Israeli air attacks on power stations knocked out a third of the country's ability to generate electricity.
Lebanese officials say that the country's growth and development have been hobbled by the attacks.
"I think the target of Israel is to attack the economy of Lebanon in attacking every time the infrastructure," said Georges Mouawad, the general director of Lebanon Electricity.
Lebanon in grip of slump
The country is already in the grip of a severe economic slump, burdened by $22 billion of national debt.
Lebanese are divided on the impact of the upcoming Israeli withdrawal, some see it ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity while others believe it could make life even worse.
The associate dean of the medical school at the American University of Beirut, Nabil Fuleihan, is among the optimists.
"The Lebanese are getting ready for more progress and development and growth for Lebanon and we have a lot of potential in this country," he said.
But the progress will depend on the success of international efforts to create calm in southern Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal.
Israel has already said it will retaliate if Hezbollah guerrillas based in the border region continue to attack its northern towns after the troops withdraw.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks look set to miss deadline
Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
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