The Mercury

20 die in Israel-Syria border stand-offs

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MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights: Israeli troops yesterday battled hundreds of proPalesti­nian protesters who tried to burst across Syria’s frontier with the Golan Heights, killing a reported 20 people and wounding scores more in the second outbreak of deadly violence in the border area in less than a month.

The clashes, marking the anniversar­y of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Mideast war, drew Israeli accusation­s that Syria was orchestrat­ing the violence to shift attention away from a bloody crackdown on opposition protests at home. The marchers, who had organised on Facebook, passed by Syrian and UN outposts on their way to the front lines.

“The Syrian government is trying to created a provocatio­n,” said Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai.

“This border has been quiet for decades, but only now with all the unrest in Syrian towns is there an attempt to draw attention to the border.”

There was no Syrian comment on why the protesters were allowed to storm the border, apparently undisturbe­d by authoritie­s. But Syria’s staterun media portrayed the event as a spontaneou­s uprising of Palestinia­n youths from a nearby refugee camp.

After nightfall yesterday, Syria’s state TV said there would be a sit-in at the border, and thousands more protesters were on their way.

The protests began around 11am with what appeared to be several dozen youths. It gained strength through the day.

By evening, the crowd had swelled to more than 1 000 people, who milled about, prayed and chanted slogans in an uneasy stand-off with Israeli troops in the distance. The army bolstered its positions, posting a dozen armoured vehicles and jeeps along the border road.

As the stand-off stretched into the evening, Israeli forces fired heavy barrages of tear gas to break up the crowds.

Israel had promised a tough response after being caught off guard in last month’s demonstrat­ions, when troops killed more than a dozen people in clashes along the Syrian and Lebanese borders. – Sapa-AP

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