Violence breaks out as protesters attempt to move into Israel

JERUSALEM — Violence erupted along three of Israel's land borders Sunday, as Palestinian solidarity protesters attempted to infiltrate Israeli territory.

More than a dozen people were killed when Israeli military forces opened fire on demonstrators who crossed into Israel. Hundreds more were injured in clashes that were condemned by Arab governments across the region.

Palestinians marking the Naqba — or catastrophe — of the establishment of the State of Israel were given unprecedented support this year by tens of thousands of solidarity protesters across the Arab world.

Israeli troops said they defensively opened fire against protesters who marched on Israel's borders from Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

The Lebanese army said that 10 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when Israeli forces shot at rock-throwing protesters. A spokesman for the Israeli military said that Lebanon's army also opened fire in an attempt to keep protesters away from the border.

Along the Syrian border, thousands of protesters stormed the fence and hundreds burst through, pelting Israeli soldiers with stones. Syrian officials said that four people were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire at the crowd.

In Gaza, medics reported that 82 protesters were wounded by Israeli gunfire as they attempted to approach the fence that separates the coastal strip from southern Israel.

Israeli officials blamed all of the incidents on "provocation" inspired by Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that Arab States were attempting to distract from their own internal problems by drawing attention to the Palestinian nationalist cause.

"We hope the calm and quiet will quickly return. But let nobody be misled: we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty," Netanyahu added.

Speaking at a televised address to mark Naqba day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that those killed were martyrs to the Palestinian cause.

"Their precious blood will not be wasted. It was spilt for the sake of our nation's freedom," Abbas said.

In the wake of the "Arab Spring" revolutions that have swept across the region, the plight of Palestinians has become a popular cause. As protesters in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan chanted for democratic reforms and elections, side-protests were held for Palestinian statehood.

In Tunis earlier this month, a group of protesters held a demonstration in front of the cities national theater to highlight the issue.

"We have our freedom, now they deserve theirs," said Malek Amou, a 27-year-old blogger who was starting a Facebook page for solidarity protests with the Palestinians.

"Since the Arab Spring there is more solidarity across the Arab world completely. We all want to help each other until we are all free — all our Arab brothers," he said.

In Egypt, thousands turned up at solidarity Naqba protests and attempted to march towards Gaza until they were turned around by the Egyptian military.

Hima Nawoub, a 24-year-old student in Cairo, said that the Palestinian cause had become "central" to young Egyptians since the revolution.

"Suddenly everyone is talking about the Palestinians. I think we are all inspired by our revolution. It has been too long for them under occupation. We want them to have revolution too," she said.

Despite the support from their Arab neighbors, Palestinians remain reluctant to take to the streets en masse.

Hamzi Musla, a 46-year-old shopkeeper in Ramallah said that there were still too many internal problems within Palestinian society.

"First we must be a united force, then we can fight the Israeli occupation. We are currently many different people — not one united person," he said.

He added that his two teenage children were among the protesters in Ramallah.

"They are young and hopeful. I have seen too many disappointments already," he said.

Earlier this month, Palestinian officials announced they had reached a reconciliation agreement between the Fatah government that controls the West Bank, and the Hamas authority that has ruled Gaza since June 2007. While the details of reconciliation have remained unclear, the two sides have pledged to hold elections together.

A spokesman for the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, called Sunday "a turning point in the Israeli-Arab conflict" that proved the Palestinian people had united and that Arabs were committed to ending Israeli occupation.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent reporting from Jerusalem.)


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