Israeli troops fired at Palestinian demonstrators in Syria who rushed to the frontier fence in what Israel called a challenge to its sovereignty. Syrian state-run media said 23 were killed.
“Anyone who tries to cross the border will be killed,” Israeli soldiers shouted through loudspeakers at the crowd of several hundred on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights who rallied to a Facebook call to march to the frontier on the 44th anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Middle East war.
As darkness fell and heavy mist descended on the high plateau, some protesters lit bonfires close to the fence and said they would remain in the area, Syrian television reported. Israel’s Channel 1 in Majdal Shams said most of the protesters had dispersed as the cold night air took hold.
Israel captured Syria’s Golan Heights in that conflict, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians want to establish a state.
Israel has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of permitting the Golan protests to try to divert international attention from his bloody suppression of the popular revolt against his authoritarian rule.
Israel is concerned that protests by unarmed demonstrators are a new tactic adopted by Palestinians, inspired by popular revolts in the Arab world, to draw a violent response and gain more world sympathy for their cause.
Israel had been on alert for a repeat of the storming of its frontiers with Syria and Lebanon last month by thousands of Palestinian protesters. Thirteen people were killed in those protests marking the Naqba, what Palestinians term the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding in 1948.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of their villages and towns in the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, and their descendants, live in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza.
Approaching Israeli lines, Palestinians in Syria descended from a hilltop overlooking the Druze village of Majdal Shams and reached the disputed border, which before last month had been largely tranquil for decades.
Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, said troops had opened fire but he could not confirm any casualties.
Protesters did cut through strands of barbed wire that Israel placed in an area between the fence, which is located inside Israeli-occupied territory, and the Syrian frontier designated by UN stone markers.
Facing demonstrators waving Palestinian flags, Israeli marksmen crouched in positions along the Syrian frontier. A spotter next to the riflemen peered at the protesters through powerful binoculars.
The event took on the trappings of a spectacle on Israeli television, which broadcast the scene live with running commentary from reporters on the ground.
“Hopa!” exclaimed a correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 television. “A Palestinian youth just bolted from a trench. An Israeli sniper fired at him three times, but it looks like he missed.”
Protesters planted Palestinian and Syrian flags near the barrier on the rocky plateau.
In the West Bank, there were clashes between Israeli soldiers and scores of Palestinian youths who tried to march on the Qalandia checkpoint, the main gateway between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Some of the youths had slingshots and hurled stones at the soldiers. The soldiers fired tear gas and, according to some reports, rubber bullets.
But the borders with Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan were quiet as governments there prevented protesters from reaching the frontier.
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