Israeli Forces Fire on Protesters Near Golan
TEL AVIV—Violence along the border between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights escalated and claimed casualties on Sunday, as Israeli soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in two locations who sought to march across the frontier on the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Syria's state news agency said 20 people were killed and more than 280 were injured in the Israeli attack on Syrians and Palestinians, who were demonstrating the "undaunted will of the youths' commitment to resistance and determination to return to their occupied lands."
Israeli officials said Damascus allowed the protestors to reach the border to distract attention from its repression of weekslong antiregime protests. Israeli officials also said Lebanese authorities avoided a flareup by declaring the border a closed military zone.
It was the worst day of fighting along this border since 1974, just months after Israel and Syria fought a major war for control of the strategic Golan plateau.
After reinforcing the border with trenches, barbed wire and snipers, Israeli officials said they wanted to prevent repeat of demonstrations two weeks ago, when hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators surprised and overwhelmed soldiers on the border and crossed into the Golan Heights.
On Sunday, however, the demonstrators—among them children— halted amid gunfire and hunkered down in a daylong standoff about a football field away from the Israeli line near the northern Golan village of Majdal Shams. Further south, near the Syrian town of Quneitra, the Israeli army fired on demonstrators who advanced on a border crossing, and four land mines exploded.
It was the second flareup in three weeks on a frontier that had remained relatively quiet for more than three decades, despite the cold war between the countries. Inspired by popular domestic demonstrations around the Arab world, pro-Palestinian protestors in Syria and Lebanon are seeking to challenge Israeli forces along the sensitive border region.
Israel—which says the flare-ups are being fomented by Syria and Iran—sees the border demonstrations as a tactic to whip up regional and international pressure on the Jewish state as expectations rise for a United Nations resolution on Palestinian statehood in September.
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