MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights — Mobilized by calls on Facebook, thousands of Arab protesters marched on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday in an unprecedented wave of demonstrations, sparking clashes that left at least 15 people dead in an annual Palestinian mourning ritual marking the anniversary of Israel’s birth.
In a surprising turn of events, hundreds of Palestinians and supporters poured across the Syrian frontier and staged riots, drawing Israeli accusations that Damascus, and its ally Iran, orchestrated the unrest to shift attention from an uprising back home. It was a rare incursion from the usually tightly controlled Syrian side and could upset the delicate balance between the two longtime foes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads to Washington at the end of the week, said he ordered the military to act with “maximum restraint” but vowed a tough response to further provocations.
“Nobody should be mistaken. We are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty,” he declared in a brief address broadcast live on Israeli TV stations.
The violence showed Israel the extent of Arab anger over the Palestinian issue, beyond the residents of the West Bank and Gaza, and came at a critical time for U.S. Mideast policy.
President Barack Obama’s envoy to the region, George Mitchell, resigned Friday after more than two years of fruitless efforts. The U.S. president may now have to retool the administration’s approach to peacemaking. Obama is expected to deliver a Mideast policy speech in the coming week.
Deadly clashes also took place along Israel’s nearby northern border with Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southern flank. The Israeli military said 13 soldiers were wounded, none seriously.
Sunday’s unrest — which came after activists used Facebook and other websites to mobilize Palestinians and their supporters in neighboring countries to march on the border with Israel — marked the first time the protests that have swept the Arab world in recent months have been directed at Israel.
The events carried a message for Israel: Even as it wrestles with the Palestinian demand for a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — there is a related problem of neighboring countries that host millions of Palestinians with aspirations to return.
The fate of Palestinian refugees is one of the thorniest issues that any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal will have to address.
Palestinians were marking the “nakba,” or “catastrophe” — the term they use to describe their defeat and displacement in the war that followed Israel’s founding on May 15, 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted. Today, the surviving refugees and their descendants number several million people.
Each year, Palestinians throughout the region mark the “nakba” with demonstrations. But never before have marchers descended upon Israel’s borders from all directions. The Syrian incursion was especially surprising.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 war, and Syria demands the area back as part of any peace deal. Israel has annexed the territory. Despite hostility between the two countries, Syria has carefully kept the border quiet since the 1973 Mideast war.
Around midday, thousands of people approached the frontier, hoisting Palestinian flags, shouting slogans and throwing rocks and bottles at Israeli forces. When hundreds of people burst across the border fence into the Israeli-controlled town of Majdal Shams, surprised soldiers opened fire.
Syrian forces did not intervene — and Syrian officials reported four people were killed, and dozens wounded.
Rioters paraded through the town, flashing Syrian ID cards and holding Palestinian flags.
“This was a surprise for everyone. I have been here my whole life and never saw anything like this,” said Khatib Ibrahim, a 51-year-old resident who watched the clashes unfold as he worked in his family’s grove.
The Israeli army said more than 100 people were sent back to Syria by the time the unrest died down several hours later.
Israeli defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information, acknowledged the military was caught off guard by the violent marches.
Officials also said there were strong signs that Syria and its Iranian-backed Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, orchestrated the unrest.
“The Syrian regime is intentionally attempting to divert international attention away from the brutal crackdown of their own citizens to incite against Israel,” said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman.
Israel’s military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, told Channel 2 TV he also saw “fingerprints of Iranian provocation and an attempt to use ‘nakba day’ to create conflict.”
Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV was in place to film much of the day’s clashes, and defense officials said the activists were bused in from Palestinian refugee camps throughout Syria. Many of them held European passports and told interrogators they had been flown in from abroad for the march.
“It’s our land,” one of the infiltrators, Sufian Abdel Hamid, told Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “We won’t stop trying to come back.”
An explosion of unrest along the border could play into the hands of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has faced two months of popular protests against political repression and rights abuses in his country. The uprising, in which human rights groups say more than 800 people have been killed, is the most serious challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty.
Assad has cast himself as the only person who can bring stability to Syria — a country with a volatile mixture of religions and sects, and with a hostile neighbor in Israel.
About 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the west, Israeli troops clashed with a large crowd of Lebanese demonstrators who approached that border. The military said it opened fire when protesters tried to damage the border fence. Security officials in Lebanon reported 10 dead.
It was the deadliest incident along the volatile border since Israel fought Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas during a monthlong war five years ago.
Sunday’s shooting erupted at the tense border village of Maroun el-Rass, which saw some of the fiercest fighting in 2006. Thousands of Palestinian refugees traveled to the village in buses adorned with posters that said: “We are returning.” Many came from the 12 crowded refugee camps in Lebanon where some 400,000 Palestinian refugees live.
Hundreds of Lebanese soldiers, U.N. peacekeepers and riot police deployed heavily in the area, taking up positions along the electrified border fence and patrolling the area in military vehicles. Young Hezbollah supporters wearing yellow hats and carrying walkie-talkies organized the entry to the village and handed out Palestinian flags.
In Cairo, a security official said more than 1,000 protesters tried to push their way past a tight security cordon toward the Israeli Embassy, located on the top floor of a building. Egyptian soldiers guarding the embassy fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. One protester burned an Israeli flag.
There was also violence in a predictable location — Gaza.
Palestinian medics said 125 people were wounded when demonstrators in the Gaza Strip tried to approach a heavily fortified border crossing into Israel. One man was killed by an Israeli sniper. The military said he was trying to plant a bomb.
In Jordan, meanwhile, police blocked a group of protesters trying to reach the border with Israel. In addition, hundreds of West Bank Palestinian threw stones at Israeli police and burned tires at a checkpoint outside Jerusalem before they were dispersed.
Inside Israel, police were on high alert for disturbances among the country’s large Arab minority, and Israeli police spokeswoman Sigal Toledo said a deadly traffic incident involving an Arab truck driver in Tel Aviv was “most likely” an attack.
The truck plowed through a crowded street, crashing into a bus, several cars and pedestrians, killing one and injuring 16 others. Police said the 22-year-old driver claimed it was an accident, but a witness said he had to subdue the man and that he was shouting slogans against Jews.
By Dr. Abdul Ruff
No nation with a badly divided house has ever achieved freedom from colonial oppressors and Palestinians have realized it now. Other nations fighting for freedom from colonial occupiers must take note of this. There is strong colonial and imperialist gang operating in the world under the USA-UK terror twins, shielded by the notorious UNSC. .
Obviously, sense prevailed in Palestinian camps to mend their ways to understand the fascist design of Zionist tentacles and come together for their own good. Hamas and Fatah are happy about the outcome of the Egypt mediated unity talk. Besieged people in both Gaza and West Bank celebrated the unity agreement almost llike they have achieved the first stage of Independence. Meshaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader, was in Cairo to celebrate the reconciliation deal between the various Palestinian factions. The deal brokered by Egypt puts an end to four years of bitter infighting between Hamas and Fatah. It is the first step toward the establishment of a unity government and is seen as a prelude to the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank in Gaza.
Right from the day one of its occupation of Palestinian territories by force and continuous support plus rearmament-reinforcement facilities from the Western terrrocracies, Israel began cultivating all anti-Islamic nations in a sustained manner, especially USA and Europe with a view to ensure their promotion of Zionist regime in the Mideast. Very quickly Western powers designated Israel as the leader in the region and a well-knit weapons dept to facilitate arms trade in the Third World. Today even big nations like Turkey and Egypt are the customers of Zionist terror goods. India also buys huge piles of terror gods from Tel Aviv. .
Under pressure from Israel and USA, their CIA-Mossad networks and global lobbyists, none outside the region has taken the Palestine issue with sincerity, commitment and dedication it deserved, but many mediators have only played mischief skillfully, and as a result the Palestinians suffered the most in the world. Egypt has been playing a pro-active role in resolving Mideast crisis, but under tremendous pressure from Israel and USA-UK terror twins, it unnecessarily prolonged the talks without results.
Zionism has only generated cunning leaders. Israel deliberately fails peace talks with Palestinians. All peace talks thus far for years, both direct and mediated, therefore have nothing on offer for the Palestinians who keep sacrificing their valuable lives facing Israeli fascism. Olmert, Netanyahu and Livni as Zionist foreign terror ministers offered the Palestinians or Abbas nothing. They just slaughtered the Palestinians as cattle. In short, they all avoid the ruling Hamas government and makes Abbas look like the leader of Palestine. They refuse to talk with Hamas.
The notorious UNSC promotes Zionist and never tried to restrain Israeli terrorism m in Palestine, let alone preventing it from invading Palestine, killing defenseless people at will. Till date, the UNSC led by USA-UK terror twins has not recognized the Hamas led government but opposes Hamas government and by their insistence on not recognizing the popular mandate the Hamas party got in the polls, the Israeli-western terrocracies have also derecognized the outcomes of all their own elections. Elections, then, in all so-called democracies are also fake.
Abbas has been made to fight Hamas tooth and nail for years now and so animosity cannot die down so soon. But the besieged Palestinians face a serious existence problem now. Palestinian civil institutions were emptied of all Hamas affiliated employees – however distant the relation – and were shaped to the objective of sustaining a Palestinian élite, on which Washington could rely to collaborate fully with Israel.
The key reasons why the anti-Palestine lobbies think the reconciliation between the Fatah leadership and Hamas is not possible and it is only temporary by nature. Israel and USA think the Fatah and Hamas are now incapable of any reconciliation because both have been forced by CIA-Mossad agents within to go for a civil war killing Palestinians in hundreds. Firstly, it looks impossible because the enmity towards Hamas has been so systematized, so ‘built-in’ to every aspect of life, and to every institution, that it would require the dismantling of everything that was built by Mahmoud Abbas and the Americans during the last decade, to make ‘reconciliation’ mean something more than empty words.
So, both USA and Israel are now unhappy that Egypt is trying now in the post-Mubarak era to take a real lead in resolving the Mideast crisis and also looking for a new chapter in its relations with Iran, the archenemy of Israel and the US. If Egypt helps create the right kind of atmosphere in resolving the crisis, that would be considered a slap on the dramatic western powers. The anti-Palestine sources, including Israel and USA-UK terror twins, still hope the unity move would fail.
The Egypt-mediated Palestine unity plan seeks to end four years of hostility between Hamas, which has control of the Gaza Strip. The peace process very much took a hit in the last few months. There has been no peace process taking place between the Palestinian Authority and Israel because of Israel’s insistence on building on land that is being negotiated on.
Fatah, which rules the West Bank envisions the creation of a joint caretaker government to pave the way for elections next year. The new alliance appears to be an effort to pave the way for the hoped-for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state later this year. Until recently Fatah maintained that there cannot be peace with both Israel and Hamas because Hamas wants to destroy Israel and says so openly. It shoots missiles at our cities, it fires anti-tank missiles at our children. “I think that the idea of reconciliation shows the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and raises the question whether Hamas will take over Judea and Samaria as it has taken over the Gaza Strip.”
Israel wants to exploit the situation in Palestine since Fatah under the leadership of Abbas lost an ally when Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Hamas, for its part, is looking uneasily to Syria, where the regime of Bashar Assad is attempting to crush protests with tanks.
Obviously, Israel and its sponsors feel dejected and miserable at the emerging situation in Mideast with Fatah and Hamas coming together which would be detrimental to Israeli terror interests in the region and world at large. Perhaps, very soon, Israel and West would call Fatah also a terrorist organization – and Abbas a terrorist!
So far now, new leadership in Egypt has shown in a short period that it can be a very sincere mediator in Mideast. So with the US keeping a distance and Israel not delivering the goods on the peace process and the settlements, it was time for Palestinians to come together and agree on what they basically agreed on almost a year and a half ago.
Israel cannot go on fooling the world by its “terrorist” campaigns for ever even with western support. The Palestinians can only be bound to an agreement in the long term for their own brighter future if all factions are part of that agreement. Hamas, which took over power in the Gaza Strip in a US-Israel sponsored bloody battle four years ago, has the resolve to obtain a sovereign nation for all Palestinians and would sooner or later have torpedoed any Israeli overtures. In order to make the Zionist terror regime to see reasons to stop playing gimmicks seriously consider establishing a free Palestine state, both Fatah and Hamas have to jointly struggle for the promised Palestine.
[Dr. Abdul Ruff is Specialist on State Terrorism. He is Chancellor-Founder of Centor for International Affairs (CIA). He is former university Teacher and Analyst in International Affairs. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on his Mobile # +91-9961868309]