IDF troops yesterday used warnings, crowd dispersal methods and then live fire to prevent Palestinian and Syrian protesters breaching the Israel-Syria ceasefire borderline in the Golan Heights. Israel could not confirm Syrian claims that 20 protestors were killed, but said it believed the real number of casualties to be much less.
Demonstrations on the Syrian border began on Sunday morning, with a reported 500 protestors arriving at the border. Protesters gathered at the foot of the hill, known as the ‘Hill of Shouting’, opposite the Druze Golan town of Majdal Shams. They hid in a ditch dug by the IDF after similar protests on 15 May, approximately 20 meters from the border fence. Protesters cut through barbed wire and tried repeatedly to breach the border. IDF troops issued warnings to protestors in Arabic not to approach the border, and fired tear gas and warning shots in attempt to deter them. When protestors continued to approach, Israeli snipers used live fire targeted at protesters legs to stop the infiltration.
Later in the day protestors also tried to reach the border fence at the largely abandoned Syrian town of Quneitra, on the border between the Golan Heights and the UN controlled separation zone between Israel and Syria. There were reports that four anti-tank mines exploded in the area, as a result of a fire started by protesters throwing Molotov cocktails. The IDF estimated that there were around 10 casualties as a result of these explosions.
The protesters were marking Naksa Day, the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Six Day War. The protests followed similar events last month, when demonstrators succeeded in breaching Israel’s border from Syria, with simultaneous demonstrations on the Lebanese border and in the West Bank.
Israeli officials accused Syria of encouraging protests to distract from the regime’s bloody internal repression. Syrian opposition groups claimed yesterday that protestors were paid in cash by Assad’s regime to take part in the demonstrations.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday that “the responsibility for the incidents and the casualties falls on those carrying out these provocations, and on all those who encouraged them to act in this way.” The IDF called the protests a “clear provocation” and stated that they were “intended to divert attention from what is happening in Syria.”
The scale of the demonstrations on this occasion was smaller than a month ago. The Lebanese army declared a closed military zone in the Israel-Lebanon border area yesterday, reducing the potential for clashes.
The United States State Department said yesterday that Israel, like any other sovereign state, had the right to defend itself, adding, ”We are deeply troubled by the event that took place today at the Golan Heights that resulted in injury and loss of life,” the statement added. “We call for all sides to exercise restraint. Provocative actions like this should be avoided.”
Protestors remained in the area overnight and the IDF is preparing for further incidents.
Further reading link: