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Israeli Troops Fire at Protesters at Golan Heights Border

  • Luis Ramirez

Israeli soldiers take aim next to the Syrian-Israeli border fence near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, June 5, 2011

Israeli soldiers take aim next to the Syrian-Israeli border fence near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, June 5, 2011

Israeli troops have opened fire on pro-Palestinian demonstrators who allegedly tried to cross the fence separating Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Syrian state media report at least 20 people were killed. Among those reported killed were a woman and child. The incident was part of a wave of Palestinian demonstrations marking the 44th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Israeli soldiers opened fire after warning hundreds of demonstrators from Syria to stay away from the barbed wire fence that marks the boundary.

Palestinian demonstrators and their Syrian supporters approached the fence, waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans insisting the land Israel captured in the 1967 war is Arab land.

The demonstration has been planned for weeks, and Israel had prepared by deploying thousands of soldiers and reinforcing the fence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he instructed security forces to act with "maximum restraint."

He said 'extremist forces' surrounding Israel are trying to breach its borders and threaten its communities and citizens. He stressed Israel will not let them do that.

Activists called the demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the 1967 war in which Israel fought Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, and won control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula.

Israel has since returned the Sinai to Egypt and disengaged from the Gaza Strip.

In the Gaza Strip, hundreds marched near the main Israeli checkpoint.

Protests turned violent at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah, where some demonstrators threw rocks at Israeli soldiers who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Sari, a student from Ramallah, said the aim of the protests is to call international attention to the Palestinians' cause. He added that Israeli forces may have helped the demonstrators by using force.

"We want to prove to the whole world who is using violence. It is obvious. You know who is using violence right now. Look at me. Do I have anything on me? No. We are trained on methods like (those of) Ghandi, like Martin Luther King, Mandela. We believe in that and we are going to stay using our nonviolent methods until the world sees who is the real oppressor," said Sari.

The demonstrations are the latest in a series of coordinated protests called by activists to occur before September, when Palestinian leaders plan to go to the United Nations to apply for full membership as an independent state.

The Palestinians are trying to gather international support for the move, which they say they are pushing as a result of last year's collapse of peace negotiations with Israel.

Watch footage of the stand-off: