Israeli security forces have opened fire at pro-Palestinian protesters gathered on the Syrian border. State-run Syrian television reports at least 20 protesters killed and over 200 others wounded.
Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered on Sunday on Syria’s border with Israel. The protesters attempted to storm the border fence, when Israeli soldiers fired warning shots into the air. But this seemed only to inflame the crowd.
The Israeli army has not yet officially confirmed the messages spread by the Syrian media claiming 20 protesters were killed in the shooting.
"We verbally warned them, we shot warning shots into the air,” Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich was quoted by AP as saying. “When this failed we had to direct some fire to their feet, in order to try and protect our fence.”
“This is the border fence between Israel and Syria,” he added. “We will not allow similar situations, such as the one that took place two weeks ago to repeat itself."
The Israeli military has accused Syrian authorities of instigating the protest to divert its people’s attention from the crackdown in the popular uprising at home.
Palestinian demonstrators have also taken to the streets of two villages in the West Bank and security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Israel has been on the alert for over a month preparing for this day, since the call went out for all the Palestinians living in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank to make their way to the border posts and fences and attempt to cross over into Israel on the 44th anniversary of the Six-Day War.
The anniversary of the Six-Day War marks the Middle East war of 1967, when Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, along with the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in a six-day combat. The Palestinians refer to this event as “the Arab downfall.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heard saying earlier on Sunday at his weekly cabinet meeting that Israeli soldiers were well-trained at crowd control. But if this fails they have orders to shoot if necessary.
An incident of the same nature happened on May 15, when hundreds of people burst across the country’s border on the same calls and over a dozen people were killed in the unrest.
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his Sunday interview to Russian radio station Echo of Moscow, said that it was impossible to resolve the conflict without drawing official borders between the territories.
“When either of them, Israel or Palestine, says ‘Jerusalem will be mine’, this is not ever going to work. Israel and Palestine settling theirs borders with mutual swaps should be an obligatory part of the whole peace process. No one expects Israel to destroy and withdraw its major settlements, but Palestinians should get some replacement to match what Israel will take,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said.
Lavrov stressed that some decision should be taken on Jerusalem.
“There will be no Jerusalem without territory splitting and without solving the refugees’ issue. We see it like this: West Jerusalem is for Israel and East Jerusalem is for Palestine. As for holy sites, these, probably, might be governed only by international institutions,” said Lavrov.