VIDEO - Despite reports suggesting the mass rallies planned in Syria and Lebanon to mark "Naksa Day" – the 44th anniversary of the Arab "downfall" in the Six Day War – were cancelled, some 500 people gathered Sunday on the Syrian side of the northern border.
According to reports, around noon, about 150 protesters made their way to the international border fence and began stoning IDF troops and attempting to cut through the fence.
IDF forces called on the demonstrators to cease their progress, before firing warning shots in mid-air. Once those were ignored as well, the troops fired at the lower extremities of several major dissidents inflaming the crowds.
Unconfirmed reports by Syrian media suggest 14 people, including two teens, were killed and about 220 others injured. Red Cross Ambulances evacuated the injured.
IDF sources said that some four landmines exploded inside Syrian territory, several hundred meters from the border. The blasts near the Quneitra crossing were caused after protestors hurled Molotov cocktails which started a fire. The fire detonated the landmines and left some protestors wounded.
IDF soldiers along the border (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
"The intensity of the fire depends on the other side," a senior officer in the Northern Command said. "We shall reduce the intensity of the fire the more Syrian citizens withdraw. Nevertheless, if they continue to approach the fence and try to damage it, we shall increase the fire."
The officer claims the event is a provocation by the Syrian regime. "They never tried to prevent it and are apparently trying to divert public attention from domestic matters."
The Syrian news agency quoted the Quneitra hospital director Ali Knan as saying the victims sustained chest and head wounds. He added that several of the wounded are in serious condition.
Syrian medical officials told Damascus TV that the Israeli soldiers "are shooting live rounds and aiming for the abdomen, chest and head."
The entire parameter has been declared a restricted military zone. The military broadcast warnings in Arabic for the demonstrators to stay away from the barbed wire fence.
Clearing the wounded (Photo: Reuters)
Several dozen protestors tried to cut the fence in Majdal Shams near an IDF trench.
Muhammad Shchiber, one of the protestors said, "We knew in advance the security forces added more landmines and that they will fire at us but we are determined to return despite the heavy fire."
Around 3pm, and at the request of the Syrian Red Cross, the IDF agreed to cease fire for a short period of time in order to facilitate the evacuation of the injured.
Nevertheless, Israel warned that should radical elements try to take advantage of the situation and storm the fence, IDF troops will not hesitate to exercise force to stop the border from being breached.
IDF troops near the border (Photo: AP)
A corresponding rally of about 400 people, mostly Druze and reporters, took place on the Israeli side of the border.
Ali Younis, head of the Syrian Prisoners Committee, who was among the protesters, told Syrian television that "the Israeli soldiers are using tear gas and live rounds.
|Video: IDF Spokesperson's Unit|
"The terrorist Zionist entity is using savage means against boys, just like they do in the prisons. Despite all of this, our youth is not afraid. The moment of liberation and return to the Golan in close."
The IDF reported that a riot involving some 100 people also broke out near the Quneitra Crossing. IDF forces fired warning shots at them as well, reporting hitting several.
Military officials noted that Syrian security forces were doing nothing to stop the demonstrators from trying to cross the border illegally.
The defense establishment issued adamant warnings saying it will not allow any illegal entry to Israel by protesters. Forces deployed across the northern borders have been issued special crowd-control measures, and are under orders to open fire – if all else fails.
IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai said that "the Syrian government and military are helpless to stop what is going on. I hope this is not an attempt by the Syrian regime to divert international attention from what in is going on in the country."
The IDF's Spokesperson Unit's Arab Media Liaison Avichai Adrei went on al-Jazeera and said that Israel "wants to see this incident end as soon as possible and all demonstrators retune home safely. We urge them to stop all provocations. The IDF is here to protect Israeli lives."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed
"Naksa Day" in Sunday's Cabinet meeting, saying that "Unfortunately, there are radical elements around us that are trying to breach our borders and threaten our citizens.
"We have instructed security forces to exercise restraint, but still secure the borders," he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also addressed the border clashes and stressed that he has instructed the IDF to prevent any attack on Israeli sovereignty while maintaining restraint to avoid unnecessary injury to civilians. He added that the instigators of the provocations are responsible for the clashes and the casualties.
Hagai Einav, Hanan Greenberg, Hassan Shaalan, Elior Levy, Roi Kais, Yair Altman, Roee Nahmias and Eyal Lehman contributed to this report