MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot Palestinian protesters who surged towards its frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday, killing up to 13 people on the day Palestinians mourn the Nakbeh.
Israeli forces opened fire in three separate border locations to prevent crowds of demonstrators from crossing Israeli frontier lines, in the deadliest such confrontation in years.
The Lebanese army on the Lebanese frontier said 10 Palestinians died when Israeli forces shot at rock-throwing protesters to prevent them from entering Israel.
Lebanese security sources said more than 100 people had been wounded in the shooting incident in the Lebanese border village of Maroun Al Ras.
The Israel army said the Lebanese army had also used live ammunition in an attempt to hold back the crowds rushing the border fence.
Israel blamed a cynical provocation inspired by Iran, to exploit Palestinian nationalist feeling fuelled by the popular revolts of the “Arab Spring” across the Middle East, and to draw attention from major internal unrest inside Syria, its ally.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped the confrontations would not escalate.
“We hope the calm and quiet will quickly return. But let nobody be misled: we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty,” Netnayahu said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a televised address to mark the anniversary that those killed were martyrs to the Palestinian cause.
“Their precious blood will not be wasted. It was spilt for the sake of our nation’s freedom,” Abbas said.
Syrian media reports said Israeli gunfire killed two people after dozens of Palestinian refugees infiltrated the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria, along a disputed border that has been largely tranquil for decades.
The Syrian foreign ministry condemned what it called Israel’s “criminal activities”.
On Israel’s tense southern border with the Gaza Strip, Israeli gunfire wounded 82 demonstrators approaching the fence with the Hamas Islamist-run enclave, medical workers said.
In a separate incident, Israeli forces said they shot a man who was trying to plant a bomb near the border. A body was later found.
In Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub, a truck driven by an Arab Israeli slammed into vehicles and pedestrians, killing one man and injuring 17 people.
Police were trying to determine whether the incident was an accident or an attack. Witnesses said the driver, who was arrested, deliberately ran amok with his truck in traffic.
A spokesperson for the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, called Sunday “a turning point in the Israeli-Arab conflict” that proved the Palestinian people and Arabs were committed to ending Israeli occupation.
Hizbollah condemned the “Israeli aggression on unarmed civilians in Maroun Al Ras and in the Golan, which constitutes a dangerous violation of human rights,” said Hizbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah who was participating at a pro-Palestinian protest in Maroun Al Ras.
“The resistance movement in Lebanon [Hizbollah] will continue to be an advocate for Palestinian national rights and calls on everyone to stand united in confronting Israeli occupation.”
“What happened today in Maroun Al Ras and in the Golan is an embodiment of the will of the Palestinian people who are committed to the right of return.”
Israeli security forces had been on alert for violence on Sunday, the day Palestinians mourn the “Nakbeh”, or catastrophe, of Israel’s creation on Palestinian lands in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced to leave their homes.
A call had gone out on Facebook urging Palestinians to demonstrate on Israel’s borders.
To the south, Egyptian forces arrested six protesters and blocked hundreds of others from marching to its border with Israel, but no frontier police appeared to be on hand in Syria.
The border zones are protected by the 1949 Armistice Agreement signed by Israel and its Arab neighbours.
A spokesperson for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, set up on the Israeli-Syrian border after the 1967 Middle East war, said he had “no immediate information” about the rush on the border.
In the Druze village of Majdal Shams, on the Golan Heights occupied by Israel in 1967, Mayor Dolan Abu Salah said between 40 and 50 Nakbeh demonstrators from Syria tore through the flimsy frontier fence.
Hundreds of protesters flooded the lush green valley that marks the border area, waving Palestinian flags. Israeli troops attempted to mend the breached fence, firing at what the army described as infiltrators.
Syria is home to 470,000 Palestinian refugees.
West Bank clashes
In the Israeli occupied West Bank, Palestinian youths and Israeli forces clashed for hours at the main checkpoint dividing the Palestinian administrative capital of Ramallah from Jerusalem, a constant flashpoint.
Palestinians hurled rocks and set ablaze tyres and soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive them away from the Qalandia checkpoint.
Several hundred protesters had come from Hebron in the southern West Bank and Jenin in the northern West Bank to join the protest.
Hamas spokesperson Taher Nono praised the “crowds we have seen in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon” as evidence of “the imminent victory and return to the original homes as promised by God”.
US-brokered Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel broke down last year and no new negotiations are in the offing, with the US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell announcing his resignation on Friday.
- “4 killed in Lebanon-Israel border shooting” and related posts (yalibnan.com)
- Israeli shootings widen Middle East unrest (guardian.co.uk)
- Israel kills nine Palestinians in border clashes (telegraph.co.uk)
- Israel-Palestinian violence erupts on three borders (calgaryherald.com)
- Israel-Palestinian violence erupts on three borders (nationalpost.com)
- Turn the Dogs of War Loose, Let Israel Defend Herself. (fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com)
- Naqba day: Reports of violence on Gaza, Lebanese, Syrian borders (elderofziyon.blogspot.com)