JERUSALEM (JTA) — Syrian protesters spent the night on the border with Israel on the Golan Heights following a day in which Syrian reports claim that up to 23 Arabs were killed.
More protesters began gathering near the border again on Monday but did not show signs of repeating Sunday’s attempts to breach the border. Meanwhile, Syrian police reportedly began preventing pro-Palestinian marchers from approaching the border after setting up checkpoints and sending away many protesters.
Syrian reports claim that 23 protesters were killed, including a woman and a child, and 350 injured Sunday on what the Arabs call Naksa Day commemorating the anniversary of the "setback" of the 1967 Six-Day War. The protests appeared to be a repeat attempt at the border breaches of May 15 that left more than a dozen dead.
Israeli military officials reject the Syrian reports of the number dead as inflated.
Israeli soldiers and border police used tear gas and fired their weapons in the air and then at protesters’ feet to break up the crowds threatening to breach the border in the Golan Heights at the Druze town of Majdal Shams and the Kuneitra crossing. Dozens of Druze youths from Majdal Shams in Israel threw large rocks and bricks at police on the border.
On Monday, Majdal Shams remained a closed military zone.
The opposition Reform Party of Syria asserted late Sunday that President Bashar Assad’s regime offered to pay demonstrators in the border protests $1,000 for participating, and $10,000 to the families of protesters killed during the demonstrations. A windfall of an extra $1,000 can keep a struggling Syrian family afloat for up to six months, according to a statement from the Reform Party.
The party accused Assad of using the border clashes to divert attention from his government’s attacks on his own citizens. About 70 Syrian anti-government protesters reportedly were killed over the weekend, according to opposition reports.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that it will complain to the United Nations over the protests.
The Israel Defense Forces has begun an investigation into Sunday’s events. The IDF said that up to 10 Syrian protesters were killed when Molotov cocktails they were throwing set off an anti-tank missile buried in a nearby minefield. The IDF reiterated that its troops fired "precisely" at the feet and legs of the protesters.
"To my regret, today there are extremist elements around us that are trying to break through our borders and threaten our communities and our citizens," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at his weekly Cabinet meeting. "We will not allow them to do so. I have instructed the security forces to act with determination, with maximum restraint, but with determination to maintain our sovereignty, our borders, our communities and our citizens."
The U.S. State Department backed up Israel’s right to self-defense.
"We call for all sides to exercise restraint," the State Department said in a statement. "Provocative actions like this should be avoided. Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself. We are deeply troubled by events that took place earlier today in the Golan Heights resulting in injuries and the loss of life."