Israeli soldiers opened fire on hundreds of protesters as deadly violence erupted along its borders with Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, leaving as many as 12 people dead, according to the Associated Press count. But the numbers are far from clear. The Los Angeles Times, for example, says as many as 15 people were killed. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators attempted to cross into Israel as they marked the anniversary of what they refer to as the “nakba,” or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s founding in 1948. Protests take place every year, but this is the first time demonstrators have tried to cross the border.
The deadliest clashes appear to have taken place along Syria as the Israeli military said hundreds of people managed to cross the border. Dozens were wounded and six reportedly killed, including two inside Israeli territory, when Israeli troops opened fire, according to the Associated Press. But clashes along the Lebanese border may have been even more deadly, according to Haaretz that cites Lebanese security forces saying at least 10 protesters were killed. Israeli security officials insist that Israeli soldiers fired shots in the air and at the legs of protesters whereas Lebanese forces fired indiscriminately, reports Haaretz. Also, two people were reported killed, and at least 40 wounded, during demonstrations in the Gaza Strip. There were also large demonstrations in the West Bank and smaller protests and clashes in East Jerusalem.
In another confusing incident, an Arab-Israeli truck driver slammed into vehicles and pedestrians in Tel Aviv, killing one man. There were immediate suspicions that it was an attack. The 22-year-old driver insisted it was an accident, according to police, who said the incident is still being investigated and appeared to have been deliberate. The situation in the region was already tense after a 17-year-old Palestinian died Saturday of a gunshot wound he suffered during clashes Friday in East Jerusalem, notes Al Jazeera.
Israel Defense Forces were not prepared for the violence, reports Haaretz. They expected the protests but didn’t know activists would try to cross the border. Israeli officials immediately pointed the finger at Iran and said Syria was purposefully fomenting the violence to divert attention from the protests that have engulfed the country demanding President Bashar Assad’s resignation. The Syrian government urged the international community to hold Israel responsible for its “criminal activities” Sunday.
The Wall Street Journal makes an interesting analysis of the situation by noting that the protests suggest that “the wave of popular protest that is sweeping the Arab world may now stand poised to turn on Israel.” The fact that Facebook and other social networking sites were used to mobilize protesters is being seen as a sign that pro-Palestinian activists are picking up strategies used in protests throughout the region in recent months. The border incidents certainly appear to be a new tactic, and come at a time when Arab governments are reluctant, if not fearful, of blocking pro-Palestinian protests that they were once all-too-eager to crush. Some are suggesting the Syrian government wants to send a message to the Western world that unrest in the country will naturally spread to Israel.
The New York Times points out that with peace talks at a standstill, many have been warning that “violence could return to define this conflict, which has been relatively quiet for the past two years.” Indeed, the deadly clashes came only days after news that George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, is stepping down from his post after two years. “It is very difficult not to read Mitchell’s exit as acceptance by him and the administration that two years’ efforts to bolster the peace process have done little to slow its deterioration,” Time’s Massimo Calabresi wrote Friday. “Alternative routes to peace, like the Syria track, are in even greater shambles.” It was difficult to read the news any other way. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that “Mitchell’s departure ends what had seemed, at moments, like a window of opportunity for President Barack Obama but which now seems like a two-year exercise in pure futility.”