Calm restored at Israeli-Syrian border after 20 killed

Calm restored at Israeli-Syrian border after 20 killed

At least 20 people died and 325 were injured Sunday when Israeli soldiers opened fire on Syrians and Palestinians trying to breach the Israeli-controlled border on the occupied Golan Heights, Syrian media reported.

Hundreds of protesters, many of them Palestinian refugees living in Syria, gathered on the so-called Shouting Hill, on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Residents of the Israeli Druze village of Majdal Shams joined the protests in the other side of the border a few hours later, dpa reported.

Calm was restored on both sides of the border by Sunday evening, an Israeli Army spokeswoman told the German Press Agency dpa. It was the second such attempt in recent weeks to breach the border.

A column of dozens of people carrying Palestinian flags could be seen walking down a green gulley toward the border.

Israeli snipers were seen lying prone with rifles on an earthen rampart on the Israeli-controlled side of the border.

While the Israeli military confirmed it opened fire, it said the troops aimed at the legs of those trying to breach the border.

The soldiers used loudspeakers to order protesters to stay clear of the border, warning them in Arabic that anyone trying climb the security fence risked being shot.

Some of the troops were injured after protestors hurled Molotov cocktails to burn vegetation and detonate landmines placed by the Israeli army in the area. Four old landmines exploded near the Quneitra crossing, causing casualties.

The clashes come as Palestinians and other Arabs mark the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War, an event they call the "Naksa (setback)".

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians marked 44 years since the Israeli occupation by marching toward an Israeli military checkpoint between Jerusalem and the central West Bank city of Ramallah.

The protesters tried to force their way through the Qalandiya checkpoint in the direction of Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers and police used clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets to push them back.

At least 40 protesters were treated for teargas inhalation. Youths hurled rocks at Israeli security forces.

Some 100 international supporters took part in the protest.

The protests come three weeks after the May 15 "Nakba (catastrophe)" day events, when tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon and Syria took Israel by surprise by marching up to its borders.

The unprecedented act of defiance symbolized their return to the homes their fathers and grandfathers fled in the 1948 war that accompanied Israel's establishment.

Trying to enforce the armistice lines, Israeli forces opened fire during the May 15 events, when four people died in Syria and 10 in Lebanon. More than 300 were injured.

In the May 15 protests, dozens of protesting Palestinian refugees from Syria made it to the centre of the Druze village of Majd al-Shams, and one even succeeded in reaching Tel Aviv.

Lebanon had declared its southern border area a closed military zone since Thursday to avoid a new escalation, and no incidents were reported on that boundary. But Syria, plagued by internal unrest, had not taken a similar step.

"After the events on May 15, Palestinian grassroots activists and political forces are determined to keep the momentum up," said one group organizing the Qalandiya march.

Palestinians have traditionally marked both the 1948 and 1967 wars with protests. This year, the protests have become more intense, with organizers using the internet to mobilize support, inspired by this spring's protests across the Arab world.

The Six-Day War broke out on June 5, 1967. By the time a ceasefire was called on June 10, Israel had captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Sunday's cabinet meeting accused "radical elements" of seeking provocations.

"Like any country in the world, Israel has the right and obligation to guard and defend its borders. Therefore, my instructions are clear - to act with restraint, but with the required determination," he said earlier this week.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat used the Sunday anniversary to urge the international community to help end "the prolonged Israeli occupation" by recognizing Palestine in the 1967 borders and voting for full membership in the United Nations.

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