Wave after wave of Syrian and Palestinian protesters from Syria
approached the frontier with the Israeli controlled Golan Heights. Israeli soldiers
opened fire at activists who crossed a newly dug trench and tried to breach the border fence near the Golan town of Majdal Shams.
The Syrian news agency SANA
reported that 19 protesters were killed and more than 270 wounded. Citing the director of a Syrian hospital in the
border town of Quneitra, the agency said that two of the dead,
aged 19 and 29, had been shot in the chest and the head respectively.
An Israeli military spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity under army ru1es,
said that "despite numerous warnings, both verbal and later warning shots in the air, dozens of Syrians continued
to approach the border."
She said the soldiers tried to disperse the crowds with nonlethal means, including
tear gas, but that did not deter them. The Israeli forces were "left with no choice," she said, "but to open fire at the feet of the protesters in order to deter them from further
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.
Conversely, the thousands of protesters at the Syrian border, which cannot be approached
without government acquiescence, appeared to reflect a calculated strategy to divert attention from the uprising
there. President Bashar alAssad, who is facing the greatest challenge to his family's ru1e in four decades, also
opened the border three weeks ago; four Syrian protesters were killed then.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed' 'extremist elements" for trying to break through
"We will not allow them to do so," he said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, adding, "I have instructed the security forces to act with determination,
with maximum restraint, but with determination to maintain our sovereignty, our borders, our communities and our citizens."
In Gaza, only a few dozen Palestinians tried to walk to the Erez checkpoint on the border with Israel,
but Hamas forces stopped them well before the crossing and they dispersed peacefu1ly.
Israel had braced for clashes after Palestinian activists in the region called for protest marches on
Sunday to mark the . anniversary of the June 1967 Middle East war, which Palestinians call the "naksa," or setback. The Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza
were among the territories Israel captured
in that war.
There were also calls for Palestinians in Lebanon
to march at the Israeli border, but activists there canceled those plans after the Lebanese authorities declared the border
area a closed military zone.
The confrontations Sunday echoed the events of May 15, the day Palestinians mark as
the "nakba," or catastr'ophe, of Israel's establishment in 1948.
Taking a cue from the so-called Arab Spring movement, organizers in mu1tiple countries and territories called for a coordinated action against Israel, and huge crowds of Palestinians responded.
They clashed with Israeli troops on four fronts, and breached the border between
Syria and the Golan Heights for the first
time in more than 30 years. At least 14 protesters from Lebanon
and Syria were killed, stoking outrage in Palestinian camps across the region and intensifying pressure on Israel to create the conditions for a return to peace talks.
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed "extremist elements" for trying to break through Israel's borders.
The Israeli military had been preparing for a repeat
of the May 15 protests, and Israeli television reports showed soldiers fortifying fences and bu1ldozers digging trenches and
laying barbed wire along the borders in the north.
On Saturday, Palestinian officials signaled another possible source of pressure on Israel, saying they wou1d accept a French proposal to attend a peace conference in Paris next month with the aim of restarting negotiations based on the
broad principles laid out by President Barack Obama last month.
Mr. Obama said that talks shou14 be for a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps. He also suggested that talks shou1d focus first
on the issues of borders and security, and deal later with the contentious issues of the status of Jerusalem and the fate
of Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants.
Palestinian president, Mahmoud
said that in principle, the French proposal was acceptable.
He told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that under the plan, neither Israel
nor th Palestinians wou1d carry out "unilateral actions."
The Palestinians have demanded a freeze in Israeli settlement building, while the Israelis oppose Palestinian plans to bypass
negotiation and seek recognition for statehood the United Nations this fall.
There has been no public response to the French plan from the Israeli side, but Israel has previously rejected talks based on the 1967 lines. Moshe Yaalon the minister for strategic affairs in the Israeli government told Israeli television
on Saturday that Israeli leaders would discuss the French proposal this week.
In a sign of growing frustration in Gaza, travelers tried
to force their way through a crossing on the border with Egypt
that was temporarily closed Saturday, a week after the new Egyptian government declared it open permanently.
Officials of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that ru1es Gaza,
said they had not been told in advance about the closing. Egypt
said it was a result of delays in renovation work that should have been completed on Friday.
Dozens of Palestinian travelers gathered in front of the closed gate leading to the Egyptian side of
the crossing in the morning. Peering through bar wire next to the gate, they
realized t it wou1d be impossible for buses to pass
through because of the work on the other side. After waiting for three hours the travelers forced open the gate and entered
the Egyptian section. Egyptian police persuaded them to return peacefully.
Rina Castelnuovo contributed reporting from Majdal Shams, Golan Heights, and
Fares Akram from Gaza.