Protestors for hire? Demonstrators along the Syria-Israel border were paid thousands of dollars by President Bashar Assad's regime to take part in Sunday's riots, Syrian opposition activists charge.
Israeli officials later reinforced the claims, accusing the Syrian regime of encouraging protests along the northern border.
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Sunday’s riots were an attempt "to divert attention away from the massacre in Syria,” one official charged. "The Syrians will be held accountable for these events.”
Late Sunday, Syrian officials claimed that 23 people were killed and 350 were wounded after the IDF fired at protestors aiming to rush the border fence earlier in the day. However, the army dismissed the figures, claiming that they were inflated.
Washington-based members of the Reform Party of Syria said intelligence sources close to the Syrian government in Lebanon informed them that the protesters on the Syrian side of the Druze community of Majdal Shams were in fact poverty-stricken farmers paid by the Assad regime.
According to the sources, the farmers migrated over the last few years from drought-stricken northeast Syria to the south. They reached the Israel-Syria border on Sunday in the aims of reenact "Nakba Day" events, the sources said.
The Syrian opposition group claimed that each farmer was promised $1,000 for showing up at the rally and $10,000 to their families if they are killed by IDF fire.
According to the report, the average salary of a Syrian citizen is about $200 per month, meaning that participation in Sunday's demonstration could provide a protester and his family with five months worth of financial relief.
Syrian protesters along the border on Sunday (Photo: AFP)
'Such tactics used by Saddam'
Opposition activists noted that such tactics were previously used by Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein when the Ba'ath Party leader offered a $25,000 reward to the families of Palestinians who died while hurling stones at Israelis during the Intifada.
Reform Party members added that Assad's payments were aimed at diverting attention away from his regime's barbaric oppression of opposition members in the last three months and the killing of more than 1,000 citizens.
Tear gas fired by Israeli forces (Photo: George Ginsburg)
The opposition group stressed that while it believes that the Golan Heights belong to Syria, it wishes to return the land through peaceful negotiations.
"If Assad really wanted the Golan Heights, he would walk the same peaceful path Anwar Sadat walked long before him," the group said in a statement.
IDF fears regular Syria protests
IDF officials said that forces along the Syrian border showed restraint Sunday during clashes with rioters aiming to breach the border fence.
“We could have taken the easier route of uncontrolled fire, but we decided to operate in a very limited manner,” one army official said.
Meanwhile, army officials fear that the border with Syria will turn into a regular protest and riot site, similar to weekly Palestinian and leftist demonstrations at West Bank villages.
Military officials say that should riots continue in the area on a regular basis, the IDF will have to change its deployment in the region. “At this time already we have several regiments that are here instead of following their regular plans,” a military source said.
Notably, the border area with Syria also offers greater operational challenges in containing riots compared to similar events in Judea and Samaria. For example, the firing of tear gas across the border is limited by law and cannot be used as a collective means of crowd control.
Hanan Greenberg and AFP contributed to the story
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