Palestinians crossing border: ” We are going back to Palestine.”
Israeli soldiers opened fire Sunday on throngs of Palestinian refugees and protesters as they attempted to cross Israel’s tightly secured borders with Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, killing as many as 15 people and wounding scores of others, officials said.
The border clashes took place on what Palestinians call Nakba Day, the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” which commemorates Israel’s 1948 founding and the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians, many of whom now live in Lebanon and Syria. The day included mostly peaceful demonstrations in the West Bank but also violent clashes between police and rock-throwing youths around Jerusalem.
In one of the largest clashes, several thousand Palestinian refugees from camps in Syria gathered along the Syrian border with the Golan Heights, which Israel took control of during the 1967 Mideast War.
“At first they were shouting and demonstrating, but then they just got so excited that they decided to try and run across,” said Shifa Abu Jabal, a resident and activist in the Israeli village of Majdal Shams, where scores of protesters tried to enter. “It was a huge surprise.”
Speaking by telephone as she helped treat the wounded in a clinic, Abu Jabal said the protesters seemed unaware that the border area was littered with land mines, though she said none exploded. Some of the protesters are believed to have made it into a Israeli village.
Similar attempts to approach or break through Israel’s border took place near the Lebanese city of Maroun al-Ras and in the Gaza Strip. Israel Radio reported that 10 people were killed along the Syrian border and Arab media said five were killed from Lebanon.
Israeli military officials defended their use of live ammunition against the protesters, saying their warning shots were ignored and they had no other choice after mobs broke through border fences. Three Israeli soldiers were wounded by rocks during the melee, Israeli officials said.
In Gaza, as many as 60 people were wounded by gunfire, mostly in the lower body, when they swarmed toward the Erez checkpoint with Israel, Gaza hospital officials said. One militant was killed while attempting to plant an explosive device along the border, according to officials in Israel and Gaza. Witnesses said Israeli tanks fired two shells toward the crowds and by late afternoon, moved two tanks across the border to secure the area.
For dramatic video footage follow this link.