JERUSALEM (JTA) – More than 18 Arabs were reported killed after hundreds of protesters from Syria attempted to breach the border with Israel on the Golan Heights.
The violence Sunday, which was a repeat attempt at the border breaches of May 15 that left more than a dozen dead, came on what the Arabs call Naksa Day, commemorating the anniversary of the "setback" of the 1967 Six-Day War.
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. Syrian media reported that 19 protesters were killed and up to 270 were injured.
Israeli troops tried three times to evacuate the wounded for care, but the crowd took advantage of these efforts and attempted to infiltrate the border, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said. Later in the day, the Red Cross carried out evacuations. Arab rioters also threw firebombs at Israeli troops in the Golan Heights at the Druze town of Majdal Shams and the Kuneitra crossing in the northern Golan, the IDF spokesman said.
Syrian security forces, who usually block any attempts to reach the Israeli border, did not intervene when hundreds of protesters showed up at the border on Sunday.
In the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinian protesters confronted Israeli troops at the Kalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Soldiers fired tear gas and shot in the air to disperse the demonstrators. At least 40 people were treated for tear gas inhalation and two were seriously injured, according to Palestinian reports. Palestinians demonstrating on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem threw firebombs at the back of Hadassah Hospital, Ynet reported.
In the West Bank, about 40 Arabs and their allies marched toward the Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh and attempted to break through the village’s gates.
Despite calls for protests in Lebanon, that border with Israel remained quiet. On June 2, the Lebanese army had declared the area a closed military zone in order to keep protesters away.
"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. Provocative actions like this should be avoided. Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself," the State Dept. said in a statement. "We are deeply troubled by events that took place earlier today in the Golan Heights resulting in injuries and the loss of life."