WORLDPOST

Israel-Syria Border Clash: Israeli Forces Reportedly Kill 13 Who Rushed Fence

06/05/2011 10:53 am ET | Updated Aug 05, 2011

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights, June 5 (Reuters) - Israeli troops fired on Sunday at demonstrators in Syria who rushed toward the border fence in a protest against Israeli occupation, and Syrian state television said 13 were killed.

"Anyone who tries to cross the border will be killed," Israeli soldiers shouted at the crowd of several hundred through loudspeakers on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Sunday marked the 44th anniversary of the 1967 Middle East war, in which Israel captured Syria's Golan Heights, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel had been on alert for a repetition of last month's storming by thousands of Palestinian protesters of Israel's frontiers with Syria and Lebanon. Thirteen people were killed in those demonstrations marking the Naqba, or 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 during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war live in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza.

Rallying again to calls on Facebook to march to Israel, 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.

Syrian TV said 13 protesters were killed by Israeli gunfire and 225 wounded. Israel Radio said a large number of people were hurt when an anti-tank mine was detonated by a brush fire at Quneitra, another protest venue near the border.

Israel's chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, said troops had opened fire but he could not confirm any casualties. He described Israel's response as "measured, focused and proper".

A Reuters correspondent at the scene saw at least 10 demonstrators carried away on stretchers by the crowd but no sign of any holes in the main border barrier.

"This is like a turkey shoot," said Fuad al-Sha'ar, an apple grower who lives in Majdal Shams.

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 Syria frontier designated by U.N. stone markers.

FLAG PLANTED

The border protests by unarmed demonstrators have raised Israeli concerns that Palestinians, inspired by popular revolts in the Arab world, have adopted a new tactic calculated to draw a violent response and boost world sympathy for their cause.

Hours before the violence flared, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered Israeli forces to act with restraint, but with determination, to prevent any border breach.

"To my regret, today there are extremists around us trying to breach our borders, and threaten our towns and citizens. We will not allow this," Netanyahu told his cabinet.

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 long-range binoculars.

The event took on the trappings of a spectator event on Israeli television, which broacast 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.

There were no reports of incidents along the Lebanese border. In the occupied West Bank, about 100 Palestinian protesters marched to an Israeli military checkpoint, where soldiers fired teargas and the crowd fled.

A Palestinian medic said 14 Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets in ensuing clashes between stone-throwing youths and Israeli forces, who also deployed a "skunk mobile", a vehicle that sprays demonstrators with a foul-smelling liquid.

Israeli officials have said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has given the green light for the Golan protests to try to divert international attention from his bloody quashing of the popular revolt against his authoritarian rule.

At Sunday's cabinet, Netanyahu responded coolly to France's proposal to convene Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Paris, saying the United States might want to pursue an initiative of its own. [ID:nLDE75403D]

"We will see how the (French) proposal fits with other initiatives. Understandably, it's not possible to implement all of them, and it's better to concentrate on one initiative and move it forward," Netanyahu said. (Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut and Tom Perry in Ramallah; Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Crispian Balmer)

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