MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights, (AP) – Israeli security forces opened fire across the Syrian frontier on Sunday to disperse hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who stormed the border on the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Mideast war. Arab media said three people were killed.
Israel had promised to prevent a repeat of a deadly protest last month, in which hundreds of people burst across the frontier and stormed into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
“Unfortunately, extremist forces around us are trying today to breach our borders and threaten our communities and our citizens. We will not let them do that,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet. “I have instructed our security forces to act with resolve, with maximum restraint but with resolve in order to safeguard our sovereignty, our borders, our communities and our citizens.”
Despite the warnings, several hundred demonstrators passed by a Syrian police outpost early Sunday and marched to the barbed-wire lined trench the Israeli military dug along the border after last month’s unrest. Protesters waved Palestinian flags and threw rocks and trash over the fence, though none appeared to have crossed the lines.
As the crowd reached the border, soldiers shouted warnings through megaphones against crossing the border. “Anybody who gets close to the fence is endangering his life,” they said.
Israeli troops opened fire, sending demonstrators running in panic. Several wounded people were taken away by demonstrators, but dozens more continued heading toward the frontier, shouting “shahid,” or “martyr.”
State-run Syrian TV reported three dead and nine wounded. There was no confirmation from the Israeli military.
It said troops fired warning shots into the air after people started approaching the border fence, then issued verbal warnings to protesters to stay away. After some of the protesters reached the fence, soldiers opened fire at their legs, the military said.
Residents of Majdal Shams, which is on the Israeli side of the border, watched the protest from rooftops. Schools had been closed and workers stayed home in anticipation of disturbances. They said local clerics instructed them to stay out of the protests.
More than a dozen people were killed in last month’s unrest, which marked the annual day that Arabs mourn the establishment of Israel. Sunday’s unrest came on the anniversary of the 1967 Mideast war, in which Israel captured the Golan from Syria, along with the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.
Things were quiet in these other territories Sunday.
Thousands of Israeli security forces had mobilized for possible border unrest.
The protesters from Syria marched the border even after organizers in Syria and Lebanon canceled plans to march to their frontiers with Israel.