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Israeli troops along the Syrian border today. Ariel Schalit/AP/Press Association Images
Golan Heights

Death toll from Golan border violence rises to 20 as Syrian police stop protesters

Syrian police are today stopping pro-Palestinian protesters from reaching the border a day after Israeli troops opened fire on protesters, reportedly killing 20.

SYRIAN POLICE ARE today preventing dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters from approaching the border with Israel in the Golan Heights a day after 20 people were reported to have been killed whilst trying to break through the frontier.

Police set up a pair of checkpoints near the border area, including one just half a mile away.

Nearly 20 protesters, some waving Syrian flags, began walking down a hill leading to the frontier from Syria, when two police officers blocked them from advancing by extending their arms.

It was not clear why Syrian security forces were intervening Monday to prevent a new outbreak of violence. A day earlier, protesters had passed by Syrian and UN outposts on their way to the frontier.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak suggested that the Syrian regime had instigated Sunday’s border unrest — and a similar incident three weeks ago — to deflect attention from its violent crackdown on opposition forces at home.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel plans to file a complaint to the UN later Monday “concerning the Syrian regime’s cynical manipulation of its own citizens in order to generate violent incidents on the border.”

Israel had fortified the border after it was breached in the earlier round of unrest.

Although protesters did not make it through the border on Sunday, Syrian TV reported that Israeli soldiers shot dead 20 people and wounded hundreds more when they opened fire to block protesters from entering the Golan.

The bodies of people killed Sunday were taken in ambulances from the Martyr Mamdouh Abaza hospital in the Syrian border town of Quneitra and headed north on the highway leading to the capital, Damascus.

The convoy of ambulances was accompanied by dozens of cars and buses carrying hundreds of people waving Palestinian flags.

Both Palestinian governments — the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the anti-Israel Hamas government in Gaza — praised the protesters.

Azzam Ahmed, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of “brutally” attacking peaceful Palestinians who “have the right to return to their homes and land.”

In Gaza, Hamas ordered three days of mourning, calling the dead “martyrs of Palestine.”

Sunday’s unrest marked the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai peninsula from Egypt in six days of fighting.

- AP

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