Violence on three borders as Palestinians remember Nakba: Syrian provocation?

Violence erupted on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on May 15, leaving at least 12 dead and scores wounded, as Palestinians commemorated the Nakba (“catastrophe”) of the Jewish state’s founding in 1948. Israeli troops also opened fire as dozens of Palestinian refugees tore through a border fence and crossed into the Israel-occupied Golan Heights from Syria, leaving at least four dead. Four were killed as Palestinian refugees attempted to cross into Israel from Lebanon. Some 60 were injured as troops fired on Palestinians approaching the Gaza Strip border fence.

Israeli soldiers also fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a clash with protesters outside Ramallah on the West Bank. In Tel Aviv, a truck driven by an Arab Israeli slammed into vehicles and pedestrians, killing one man and injuring 17 people. Police said they were trying to determine whether the incident was an accident or an attack. Witnesses said the driver, who was arrested, ran amok with his truck in downtown traffic.

Israeli authorities were quick to portray the protests as fomented by foreign powers. “We are seeing here an Iranian provocation, on both the Syrian and the Lebanese frontiers, to try to exploit the Nakba day commemorations,” said the army’s chief spokesman, Lt-Col. Yoav Mordechai. (Reuters, DPA, May 15)

Days earlier, a cousin and adviser of Syrian President Bashar Assad warned in an interview with the New York Times that unless there was stability in Syria, “there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.” Rami Makhlouf, a leader of Syria’s political elite and one of the country’s richest men, warned, “nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime.” (NYT, May 11)

The days leading up to the Nakba commemoration saw repeated street battles in Jerusalem. On May 14, some 2,000 mourners filled the streets for the funeral of Milad Said Ayyash, a Palestinian youth fatally wounded the previous day in the city’s Silwan district. Police said it was unclear who had shot him and they are investigating. Carrying Palestinian flags, the mourners, some masked, chanted “Allah Akbar” (God is great) and “With our blood and our soul, we shall sacrifice for the martyr,” as they marched to al-Aqsa Mosque. (AFP, May 14)

In Egypt, authorities on May 14 blocked access to the Sinai peninsula to prevent a march from Cairo to Gaza in solidarity with the Palestinians, as thousands protested at the Israeli embassy in Cairo. The march was due to leave from Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and demand the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the release of all Palestinian prisoners. (AFP, May 13)

See our last post on the struggle for Palestine.

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