Several hundred Palestinian and Syrian rioters rushed the border with Israel near the Golan Heights on Sunday, causing the Israeli Defense Forces to open fire to prevent infiltration of the Jewish State.
Other, smaller protests broke out in several places on the West Bank on what the Palestinians refer to as “Naksa Day,” or “Day of the Setback” — referring to the first day of the 1967 War. While the US State Department defended Israel’s absolute right of self-defense, it is clear that the series of protests were orchestrated by the Syrian government, whom the IDF believes was staging the riots in order to deflect attention from President Bashir Assad’s murderous crackdown on protesters in his own country.
Syrian state television broadcast the confrontation live, even allowing reporters access to the sensitive border area in order to witness the riot. Several busloads of Palestinians had been taken to two separate locations at the border, and were allowed to congregate without any interference from the Syrian police and army.
When the protesters attempted to cut through barbed wire on the Syrian side of the border near Majdal Shams, the IDF shouted warnings in Arabic via loudspeaker, announcing that anyone who tried to cross the frontier into Israel would “endanger their lives.” Israeli soldiers then fired their guns in the air trying to dissuade the infiltrators from advancing further. Finally, after protesters tried to cut through the last barrier, IDF snipers fired at the protesters’ lower bodies, the IDF reported. An IDF spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that it knew of 12 casualties.
There is no independent corroboration of the number of casualties. The state-run news agency SANA, a propaganda organ wholly owned and operated by the Syrian government, reported that 20 protesters were killed and 350 wounded, quoting a doctor working at the state-run local hospital. One Israeli government official was quoted as saying, “Damascus has a track record of not being precise with its data.”
The same official pointed out that President Assad has good reason to engineer a confrontation between the IDF and protesters while inciting violence that was sure to gain worldwide headlines. “One can only suppose that there was a decision taken in Syria to exploit the situation to change the subject from what is going on inside Syria,” he said.
What is going on is a slaughter. Human rights organizations say that 70 people were massacred on Friday in the city of Hama while dozens of other murders were reported among protesters in several other cities, including an unknown number of demonstrators killed in the city of Deir al-Zor when thousands rushed a square trying to topple a statue of President Assad’s father Hafez. A witness told Reuters, “The crowd reached President’s Square when it was met by…bullets from the security police and armored cars that had deployed there to prevent the ‘sanam’ (false deity) from being toppled.” The report rings true given the fact that the Syrian army deployed tanks to battle protesters in Hama.
As the violence escalates in Syria, President Assad appears to be striking out blindly in a desperate effort to deflect attention from a crackdown that human rights activists estimate conservatively has cost the lives of over 1,100 Syrian civilians. A major opposition website in Syria claimed that “Naksa protesters were poor farmers who were paid $1,000 by the Syrian regime to come to the border.” The group also claimed that the Syrian government promised $10,000 to the families of anyone killed.
The bused demonstrators, paid agitators, and the Syrian police and soldiers who stood by as the rioters made their way back and forth across the Syrian border make it clear that the protests near the Golan were a Syrian production from start to finish — the planned incitement of violence against the IDF designed to relieve pressure on the Syrian regime which is beginning to buckle under the weight of protests against it. No doubt, the Palestinians went along with this Kubuki dance in order to garner worldwide sympathy for their cause in the lead up to an effort at the United Nations this fall to gain recognition for an independent Palestinian state.