News / Middle East

Violence Spreads Along Israel's Borders As Palestinians Coordinate Protest

A plainclothes Israeli police officer and soldiers detain a Palestinian protester during clashes near the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Sunday, May 15, 2011
A plainclothes Israeli police officer and soldiers detain a Palestinian protester during clashes near the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Sunday, May 15, 2011

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Luis Ramirez

Israeli troops have fired at protesters along Israel's borders with Lebanon and Syria.  At least 10 people have been killed as thousands of Palestinians mobilized to mark the anniversary of the uprooting of Palestinians that resulted from the creation of the state of Israel.  

It was supposed to be a series of nonviolent protests, the first coordinated move by Palestinians to try to overwhelm Israeli checkpoints along the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and along Israel's boundaries with Syria and Lebanon.

At the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank town of Ramallah and Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians - mainly young people - clashed with Israeli soldiers.  Some demonstrators threw rocks at soldiers who fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

This 16-year-old Palestinian says he was hit by a rubber bullet.  He says he came to protest and vent what he feels about the Palestinians' situation.  He says he came to express his belief that the Palestinians will one day take back Jerusalem from the Israelis, including its Muslim holy places.

As he was talking, demonstrators ran when Israeli soldiers moved in to disperse the crowd.

In the north, Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinians who breached a fence separating the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria.  Israel Defense Forces spokesman Captain Barak Raz said soldiers fired when the demonstrators cut through the fence. "We were met with thousands of violent rioters on the Syrian side of the border who at first attempted to and then successfully breached and infiltrated into Israel, making it into the center of the village of Majdal Shams.  We are talking about violent rioters who were hurling rocks," he said.

Witnesses in Majdal Shams say the Palestinians described themselves as refugees living in Syria who said they were trying to return to their former homes.

Along the border with Lebanon, several Palestinians were shot to death while trying to cross the Israeli boundary.

To the south, in Gaza, demonstrators tried to reach the Erez checkpoint separating the Gaza Strip from Israel.  Witnesses say Israeli forces fired at the demonstrators, wounding a number of them.

At another point along Gaza separation barrier, Israeli forces say they shot one person.  Palestinian officials say the person died.

Organizers have been planning the demonstrations for months.  They call it the first coordinated effort by Palestinian refugees or their descendents to enter Israel.  

The effort comes after the main Palestinian rival factions signed a reconciliation agreement last month.  

Palestinian activist Dr. Moustafa Barghouti, a vocal proponent of the agreement, took part in the demonstrations at Qalandia. "This reconciliation agreement brought unity to Palestinians and what you see today, Palestinians are unified, demanding ending the occupation, demanding ending apartheid, demanding their rights.  It is an uprising for freedom and this is one of the outcomes of the reconciliation agreement," he said.

Palestinians each year mark the anniversary of what they describe as the Naqba, the event in 1948 in which hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes at the creation of the State of Israel.

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