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Israeli troops opened fire on pro-Palestinian demonstrators attempting to breach its borders on three fronts, killing at least 13 people. Scores more were wounded at Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.
Clashes also erupted in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day, the anniversary marking the 1948 war in which hundreds of thousands of people became refugees after being forced out of their homes.
Thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria marched towards the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. At least four people were killed by Israeli troops as they crossed the border, Israel Radio reported. Up to 20 were injured, according to the Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance service.
A statement from the Israeli military said: “Thousands of Syrian civilians breached the Israel-Syria border near the Israeli village of Majdal Shams.
“IDF forces opened fire in order to prevent the violent rioters from illegally infiltrating Israeli territory. A number of rioters have infiltrated and are violently rioting in the village. From initial reports there are dozens of injured that are receiving medical care in a nearby hospital.”
Most of the inhabitants of Majdal Shams, a large village close to the border, hold Syrian citizenship and have family on the other side of the border, from whom they are cut off. The Israeli army declared the area, which is heavily mined, a closed military zone on Sunday.
Despite being occupied by Israel for 44 years, the Golan is usually calm. Syria has repeatedly demanded Israel hand back the area.
A similar Nakba Day protest on the Lebanon border led to four people being killed and around 15 wounded, according to Lebanese media reports. Dozens of protesters approached the border from the Lebanese town of Maroun a-Ras.
Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, an Israeli military spokesman, said soldiers fired when demonstrators began vandalising the border fence. The army was “aware” of casualties on the other side, he said.
Witnesses said that Israeli troops had fired across the border at protesters throwing stones from within Lebanon, a move that could have serious repercussions and prompt further cross-border incidents.
In Gaza, around 60 people were injured by shelling and machine-gun fire when protesters approached the heavily fortified Erez border crossing, according to Palestinian medical sources. Israelis living near Gaza were advised to stay inside bomb shelters.
The Israeli security forces were braced for wide-scale protests on Nakba Day – the most highly charged day in the Palestinian calendar – and had deployed around 10,000 troops and police along the country’s borders and in the Palestinian territories. The West Bank was subject to a 24-hour closure, with only emergency access permitted.
The Israeli authorities warned that the first Nakba Day following uprisings across the region could herald riots across the Palestinian territories.
In the West Bank, rubber bullets were fired at about 200 Palestinians and supporters who marched towards the Qalandia crossing on the edge of Jerusalem.
There was also unrest in East Jerusalem, fuelled by the death of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy who was shot in the stomach during clashes on Friday. He died in hospital on Saturday.
In Tel Aviv, an Israeli man was killed and 17 injured when a truck ran into vehicles and pedestrians. It was not clear whether the incident was an accident or a deliberate attack. The truck’s 22-year-old Israeli-Arab driver said he lost control of the vehicle due to faulty brakes.
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