Israel says 10 killed on Golan, Syria inflated toll

6th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Israeli army on Monday said 10 people had been killed during Sunday's "Naksa Day" protests along the Syrian ceasefire line, describing Damascus's toll of 23 as "exaggerated."

Troops in the Golan Heights remained on high alert after Sunday's bloodshed which Syrian state television said killed 23 people and wounded 350 when Israeli troops shot at protesters marking the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel's military said it counted 10 protesters dead -- none of whom was killed by Israeli fire.

"We are aware that around 10 of the casualties that the Syrians reported yesterday were killed by the fact that they used Molotov cocktails in the Quneitra area that hit some Syrian landmines," Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz told AFP.

"I think there is solid ground to believe that (the Syrian figures) are exaggerated," she said. "A big number of them died as a result of their own deeds."

Asked whether any protesters were killed or wounded by Israeli fire, she was non-committal.

"We don't really know. There were a lot of charades. When someone was shot in the feet, they were carried away on a stretcher in front of the cameras," she said.

By Monday morning, only a handful of protesters were still camped out along the border, the army said.

Another spokeswoman told AFP that the night had been "quiet."

Sunday's confrontation erupted as hundreds of protesters from Syria marched towards two points along the ceasefire line -- Quneitra in no-man's land, and Majdal Shams, the Druze town on the Israeli-occupied side of the plateau.

As they began cutting through a line of barbed wire, troops urged them to stop in Arabic and fired tear gas, then warning shots after which they took aim at the lower body, the military said.

The protests were organised by Palestinian groups to mark 44 years since Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War in an event known in Arabic as the "Naksa" or "setback."

Three weeks earlier, thousands of protesters in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza tried to force their way across the borders in a mass show of mourning over the 1948 creation of the Jewish state, known as the "Nakba" or "catastrophe."

At that time, hundreds of people from Syria managed to force their way onto the Israeli side, prompting troops to open fire killing four, while a similar yet unsuccessful attempt along the Lebanon border left six dead.

Although nobody succeeded in crossing the frontier on Sunday, they ran down a hill into no-man's land on the Syrian side to a ditch filled with barbed wire which had been dug by the Israelis last week, but they were not able to cross it.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak accused Syria of encouraging unrest on the frontier in a futile effort to save President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"It may be something that the Syrians are encouraging, it may be that they are pleased with it, they may think it distracts attention," Barak told public radio.

"We have no choice, we have to defend our border and Assad, in my opinion will fall in the end," said Barak.

The bloodshed provoked international concern.

"We are deeply troubled by events that took place earlier today in the Golan Heights resulting in injuries and the loss of life," the US State Department said in a statement on Sunday, calling for restraint while acknowledging Israel's right to self-defence.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed "deep concern" and said the world body was seeking to confirm facts about what had happened.

"The events of today and of 15 May on the Golan put the long-held ceasefire in jeopardy," a statement from Ban's office said, calling for "maximum restraint on all sides."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on all parties "to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and to avoid provocative acts."

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP that Israel's diplomatic mission at the United Nations had been instructed to register a formal protest against Syria over Sunday's incidents.

Protests were also staged in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where 16 people sustained light injuries from rubber bullets, and 20 were treated for tear gas inhalation.

But the Lebanese border was quiet after the military there banned demonstrations along the frontier.

© 2011 AFP

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