Israeli soldiers fired on protesters trying to breach the country’s frontier fence with Syria on the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War. At least 20 people were killed, according to Syrian state television.
Some 277 people were wounded, including 12 in critical condition, the television said. An Israeli soldier could be heard telling protesters through a loudspeaker in live Syrian television coverage: “If you cross the fence you will be killed.” Israeli soldiers shot at demonstrators’ legs after firing warning shots, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said on Channel 2 television.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that security forces would act with “determination” to prevent “extremist elements in the region” from penetrating the frontier.
Clashes between protesters and Israeli forces on the frontiers with Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and West Bank left as many as nine dead on May 15, as Palestinians marked the anniversary of what they call the “Nakba,” Arabic for catastrophe, referring to their displacement in 1948 as a result of the creation of the state of Israel. Palestinian groups called for similar rallies today, the anniversary of the war that saw Israel capture the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem from Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index, after initially dropping in the hours after the clash began, reversed course and closed up 0.2 percent at 1,230.55 today.
The incident occurred as more than two months of protests within Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad has left more than 1,100 people dead, according to human rights groups.
“Allowing the Palestinians to reach the fence with Israel is a useful distraction for Assad, who can’t stop the demonstrations against his regime,” Mordechai Kedar, a researcher at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, said in a telephone interview.
The Israeli-Syrian frontier has been largely quiet since the 1973 war, in which Syria tried to recapture the Golan Heights. Israel annexed the Golan in 1982 in a move that has not been internationally recognized.
The Lebanese army stopped dozens of refugees from approaching its fence with Israel, the state-run Lebanese National News Agency reported today.
“The Lebanese government and army stopped demonstrators from reaching the border, and we didn’t see the same motivation on the part of the Syrian soldiers,” Mordechai told Army Radio.
Israeli forces also clashed with some 200 Palestinian demonstrators at the Kalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, firing tear gas at stone-throwing protesters, the army said. No serious injuries were reported there and at other smaller protests in the West Bank.
“We are marking 44 years of settlement-colony expansion,” Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said in an e- mailed statement. “Israel’s illegal and discriminatory policies have led to the displacement and dispossession of our people.”
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