Radio Netherlands reports:
Israeli troops opened fire on Sunday as protesters from Syria stormed a ceasefire line in the occupied Golan Heights, with Damascus saying 23 demonstrators were killed.
Hundreds of protesters rushed the ceasefire line, cutting through barbed wire as they tried to enter the Golan Heights in a repeat of demonstrations last month that saw thousands mass along Israel’s north.
Similar protests were held in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
In Majdal Shams, on the occupied Golan, Israeli troops opened fire as demonstrators sought to push through the mined ceasefire line, which had been reinforced with several rows of barbed wire blocking access to a fence.
“Despite numerous warnings, both verbal and later warning shots in the air, dozens of Syrians continue to approach the border and IDF (Israel Defence Forces) forces were left with no choice but to open fire towards the feet of protesters in efforts to deter further actions,” an army spokesman told AFP.
Updating an earlier toll, Syrian state media reported that 23 people were killed, including a woman and child, and 350 were wounded. The Israeli military said it was aware of 12 casualties.
The United States called for calm.
“We are deeply troubled by events that took place earlier today in the Golan Heights resulting in injuries and the loss of life,” the State Department said in a statement.
“We call for all sides to exercise restraint. Provocative actions like this should be avoided.”
The US statement emphasised that “Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself.”
The Israeli military also said that one person was wounded when at least one landmine exploded on Syria’s side of the border.
“A Syrian mine exploded, seemingly because Molotov cocktails thrown at (Israeli) forces started a bush fire which caused the explosion of the mine, a number of mines even,” an army spokeswoman told AFP. “Apparently there is one person wounded on the Syrian side.”
Israeli public radio said “many” people were hurt in the explosion near Quneitra, which lies in no-man’s land. There was no immediate confirmation from Syria.
In Majdal Shams, locals pleaded with soldiers to stop firing as troops used loudspeakers to warn demonstrators in Arabic that “anyone who comes close to the fence will be responsible for their own blood.”
Israeli forces were on high alert after activists in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Arab nations bordering the Jewish state, called for protesters to march on Israeli checkpoints and border areas.
Military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz accused Syria of orchestrating the Golan protest to deflect attention from deadly domestic anti-regime demonstrations.
“We believe that the Syrian regime is focusing the world’s attention on the border with Israel instead of what is happening there,” she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Golan demonstrators “extremist elements” who “are trying to break through our borders and threaten our communities and our citizens.”
Protests were also staged in Gaza and the West Bank, where 16 demonstrators were taken to hospital with light wounds from rubber bullets, and another 20 were treated for tear gas inhalation.
Around 100 people demonstrated in central Hebron in the southern West Bank, while dozens of protesters tried to march from the northern West Bank village of Deir al-Hatab to the nearby Elon Moreh settlement.
In Gaza, Hamas police arrested around a dozen protesters who broke away from a rally at the northern town of Beit Hanun, and tried to march to the Erez border crossing with Israel.
Sunday’s protests, timed to coincide with the 44th anniversary of the Six-Day War when Israel captured the Golan from Syria as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, were planned as a repeat of massive demonstrations last month.
On May 15, thousands of protesters massed on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, trying to force their way across on the anniversary of Israel’s creation.
Israeli fire left six demonstrators dead on the Lebanese side of the border and four dead on Syria’s side.
In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees on Sunday staged a day of mourning but the Lebanese army banned any gatherings at the border to avoid a repeat of the violence.
Haaretz Service reports:
IDF soldiers fire tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in Druze village of Majdal Shams, where demonstrations were held marking 44 years since onset of Six-Day War.
Hundreds of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israel Defense Forces soldiers near a key West Bank checkpoint on Sunday, in rallies marking Naksa Day, the defeat of Arab armies by the hand of Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967.
IDF soldiers fired tear gas at protesters in the northern Israel Druze village of Majdal Shams, where demonstrations were being held to mark Naksa Day.
The tear gas came as a result of protesters throwing stones at the soldiers. Many protesters were reportedly injured in Majdal Shams as a result of the tear gas.
Near the West Bank city of Qalandiyah, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, IDF soldiers were confronted with hundreds of Palestinian protesters, firing tear gas and demonstration dispersal weaponry.
Channel 2 reported later Sunday that over 50 people were wounded in clashes with the Israeli military.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Palestinians were reportedly demonstrating in the Baka al-Sharkiyeh across the border from the Israeli Arab town of Baka al-Garbiyeh.
Last month, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across the West Bank to mark Nakba Day, waving flags and holding old keys to symbolize their dreams of reclaiming property they lost when Israel was created on May 15, 1948.
In a West Bank refugee camp and on the outskirts of Jerusalem, IDF troops fired tear gas to break up large crowds of stone throwers.
Demonstrators gathered at a gas station near the village of Isawiyah in East Jerusalem early Sunday, hurling rocks at the security forces. One police officer was injured and at least 13 protesters were arrested during those clashes, some of them with the aid of a helicopter team.
Palestinians demonstrating near Mount Scopus in Jerusalem hurled firebombs at the back of the Hadassah University Hospital. No one was wounded in the incident and there were no reports of damage.
In Qalandiyah several hundred protesters began marching toward a local checkpoint. Police attempted to disperse those protesters by firing tear gas canisters. 20 protesters were lightly hurt.
Israeli left-wing leader: IDF used ‘excessive force’ in Naksa Day protests
Former MK Uri Avneri says soldiers are ‘trigger-happy’ when it comes to Palestinians yet soft on ‘violent’ Jewish settlers; Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka, calls IDF killing of protesters a ‘war crime.’
Uri Avneri, former MK and activist with Gush Shalom left-wing organization, said Sunday that the IDF used excessive force against the protesters in the Golan Heights. “The trigger-happy behavior stands out in particular when compared to the softness with which violent settlers are treated,” he said.
Avneri conceded that a country has a right to defend its borders and prevent illegal entrance to its territory, yet added that “in order to effectively protect its borders, the state should first know where its borders are and have them recognized by the international community – and this is a decision which Israel has been avoiding for years.”
Israeli soldiers takeing aim next to the Syrian-Israeli border fence near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights June 5, 2011.
Photo by: Reuters
“A state that trespasses its neighbors’ borders, steals their land and erects settlements on them will have a hard time justifying actions taken to protect its own borders,” Avneri said. “Contrary to what Prime Minister Netanyahu says, only a recognized and agreed upon international border – that is, a border based on the 1967 lines – is a defensible border.”
Tens of Balad faction activists demonstrated at Shfaram junction on Route 70 Sunday afternoon in protest of the events taking place on the Israel-Syria border.
Balad chairman, Israeli Arab MK Jamal Zahalka, called the IDF’s killing of protesters a “war crime,” and accused the Israeli soldiers of “shooting in order to kill, with the intention of deterring similar demonstrations in the future.
“We must remember that the international border is at the Kinneret and not on the hill and Israel is the one trespassing that border, not the protesters,” said Zahalka. “The protesters are obeying international law by wanting to return [to Israel] and maintain the right of return, and Israel is breaking the international law by shooting at them, preventing them from advancing.”
Earlier Sunday, IDF soldiers opened fire at hundreds of Palestinians amassing near Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights on Sunday, firing tear gas and other demonstration dispersal weaponry in an attempt to break up the Naksa Day rallies.