Dozens injured as an estimated 1,000 Syrians and Palestinians gathered at border village of Majd al-Shams
Demonstrators gather along the Syrian border before trying to cut through the barbed wire and enter the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP
Israeli troops have clashed with protesters on the Syrian border for the second time in less than a month, with several dozen reported injured and claims that up to 20 had been killed.
The violence had been widely predicted after organisers called for a symbolic March on Israel to mark 44 years since the beginning of the six day war in 1967.
However, the clashes were smaller in scale than the last time pro-Palestinian activists confronted Israeli soldiers along borders with Syria, the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon.
The Syrian village of Majd al-Shams was again the focal point with an estimated 1,000 Syrians and Palestinians surging to within 20 metres of the fenced off border over six hours. They threw stones and molotov cocktails at Israeli troops as snipers fired rubber-coated bullets and live rounds at some activists.
Israel acknowledged that at least 12 had been wounded on the Syrian side, but disputed claims by state television in Damascus that 20 demonstrators were killed. Television footage shown live from the scene on Syrian and Lebanese television showed scores of people being carried to waiting ambulances, however there has been no confirmation of the deaths.
As night fell there were reports that anti-tank mines may have detonated near the Syrian border town of Quinetra, accounting for some deaths.
The Lebanese army kept demonstrators away from flash-point areas in the south of the country, while Palestinian organisers called off their protests on Friday after pressure from the army.
The village of Maroun al-Ras was the scene of widespread violence on 15 May when up to 10 demonstrators were shot dead as they rallied near the fence that separates Lebanon and Israel. Up to 1,000 demonstrators arrived at the area in buses to mark “Nakba day”, the Palestinian name for the day Israel was formed in 1948.
One demonstrator who was wounded that day told the Guardian the Lebanese militia Hezbollah had given him $50 to turn up at the border and $900 to have his gunshot wounds treated by physicians. He said he had been planning to return to Maroun al-Ras yesterday until the rally was cancelled.
At the Qalandia crossing between Jerusalem and the West Bank around 50 demonstrators were forced back by Israeli border police who fired teargas and rubber bullets. The protesters walked for about 200 metres before being dispersed with rounds of teargas. At the same time youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers and police but were never close enough to cause harm.
A small group appeared with placards next to the Israeli soldiers but were dispersed with percussion grenades. The same group lay in front of a police truck used to spray “skunk”, a noxious liquid used for crowd control, and stayed for a few minutes despite being doused in the liquid. The injured were hit by rubber bullets and gas canisters, and overcome by teargas and pepper spray. In Gaza, Israeli police prevented hundreds of demonstrators from approaching the Erez checkpoint and confronting the army.
Until Nakba day, when hundreds of protesters from Syria and Lebanon breached the northern Israeli border, the frontier with Syria had remained trouble-free for almost four decades.
But as the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown on protests show, protesters are only allowed to gather when the state allows them. The Golan area of Syria is off-limits without state permission.
Analysts in Damascus say that while Israel may be culpable for opening fire, they view events on both days as deliberate antagonism of Israel by the Syrian regime. Rami Makhlouf, the president’s cousin and a member of the regime’s inner circle, last month told the New York Times: “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.”
“There is no question the regime organised this to say it’s us or chaos,” Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian human rights activist in exile in the US, said. One Syrian activist tweeted: “So Bashar sends army and tanks to crush peaceful protests, and sends a few dozen Palestinian refugees to liberate the Golan?”
After breaching the border on May 15, one man, Hassan Hijazi, made it all the way to Jaffa in search of his family’s former house.