Monday, 16 May 2011

Palestinians clash with Israeli troops at borders

Clashes took place at the Maroun Al-Ras border between Lebanon and Israel

Israeli forces have fired on groups of protesters at borders with the Palestinian territories, Syria and Lebanon during clashes on Sunday 16th May.

Protests erupted in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, as well as on Israel's sensitive northern borders, and resulted in Palestinians clashing with Israeli troops and police leaving at least 13 people dead and hundreds injured.

Demonstrators were marking “Nakba” or Catastrophe, the term for the 1948 war which saw the founding of the Israeli state as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Nearly 10,000 border police officers were stationed throughout the country in preparation for the day, however the clashes on its borders were largely unexpected, according to The Guardian.
Facebook and other social media outlets appear to have played a part in organising the demonstrations, which seem to have gained impetus from the uprisings in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The clashes on Sunday are the first time that the protests of the so-called Arab Spring have been directed at Israel.

Every year Nakba is marked with demonstrations, and security forces in Israel expected larger numbers than usual in this first Nakba since the start of the protests which have swept the Arab world since January.

But never before have protesters marched on Israel's borders in all directions.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a televised address on Sunday in which he said he hoped “calm and quiet will quickly return, but let nobody be mistaken: we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for calm and urged all sides to show 'utmost reponsibility'. He called for a renewed effort to reach comprehensive peace in the region.

Clashes took place at four separate borders or crossing points, according to the BBC: on the Golan Heights, at the border with Lebanon, at Erz in Gaza and near Ramallah in the West Bank. Clashes also occurred within east Jerusalem.

Thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria marched towards Majdal Shams, a village in the Golan Heights that Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

After the protesters "violently rioted" in the words of the Israeli military, its troops fired "selectively" on the group. At least two people were killed, although the real number may be as much as ten.

Resident reports suggest that some 200 protestors managed to cross into Israel, a rare incident at the usually tightly controlled border.

Israel accused Syria of provoking the confrontation to divert attention away from its own internal problems, and said the provocation was an attempt to exploit Palestinian nationalism in the wake of regional unrest. The Israeli military has also suggested Iranian involvement.

Syria was quick to condemn what it called Israel's “criminal activities”, and the foreign ministry called on the international community to hold Israel responsible for the deaths.

The confrontation could be seen as beneficial to the beleaguered Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad in a number of ways. It will divert attention away from internal troubles by focussing on the external Israeli enemy.

It will also allow al-Assad to cast himself as the only person who can bring stability to Syria, and will suggest to Israel and the US that should al-Assad go, Israel could face a much more militant neighbour.

Lebanon's border town of Maroun al-Ras also saw Israeli troops firing upon stone-throwing protestors, leaving at least two dead.

Protestors, which had received support from Hezbollah according to the Guardian, broke through the Lebanese army's barricade, however they were eventually dispersed.

Dozens of buses had brought protesters to the area under the rally slogan of “March for the return to Palestine.” Many of the protesters came from the 12 crowded refugee camps in Lebanon where some 400,000 Palestinian refugees live.

Israel's internal borders also witnessed problems. At the Erez border crossing from Israel to Gaza, Israeli troops fired on protestors with machine guns, injuring at least 125. The Israeli military said it shot dead a man trying to plant a bomb near the border.

In the West Bank, clashes occurred after some 600 people marched from Ramallah towards the Qalandia checkpoint into Jerusalem. There were also reports of clashes in other areas of the West Bank, and soldiers dispersed groups of activists who were stoning Israel Defence Forces (IDF) positions in Ramallah itself.

Tensions were also high in east Jerusalem after a Palestinian youth was shot during a riot on Friday in the capital's Silwan neighbourhodd.

Milad Ayish, 17, died after being shot in the stomach, during a confrontation between police and masked Palestinian youths.

The clashes left dozens injured and 34 people were arrested for rioting. Youths threw stones at security personnel and at Jewish homes during the funeral procession for Ayish on Saturday, and tension remained high on Sunday, when more clashes took place.

Lebanon has filed a complaint with the UN about Israel's actions, while Israel has also complained to the body that Lebanon and Syria violated its international borders.

Sources: Associated Press, BBC News, The Guardian, Jerusalem Post

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

No comments:

Post a Comment