Israeli troops on the Golan Heights wounded at least 10 people as they fired live rounds and tear gas yesterday at protesters who broke though from the Syrian-held side of the plateau, medics and defense sources said.
Israeli media reported at least one dead and several wounded, but there was no immediate confirmation of the toll, in one of the worst incidents for decades along a ceasefire line that has been quiet since a 1974 truce accord.
Medical officials said “between 10 and 20” of the protesters were wounded, with one feared dead, while three Israelis were said to have been slightly injured in the incident.
The violence came as Palestinians in the occupied territories, inside Israel and across the region marked the anniversary of the Jewish state’s 1948 creation, known in Arabic as the nakba (catastrophe).
The army sealed off the area on the edge of the Druze town of Majdal Shams and carried out house-to-house searches in case of infiltrators from the Syrian side, according to media reports.
Israeli troops also opened fire as more than 1,000 Gazans marched on the northern Erez crossing with Israel, wounding at least 52 people, reporters and medics said.
An Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter said several hundred people had bypassed a Hamas checkpoint to come within a few hundred meters of a concrete border barrier, in a huge march to mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948.
About 1,000 people had gathered between the Islamist movement’s post, which lies just under a kilometer from the frontier, and another checkpoint slightly further out, he said.
Emergency services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya said at least 52 people were wounded as Israeli soldiers opened fire, with five of them left in serious condition, including two minors.
Policemen of Hamas, which controls Gaza, were struggling to prevent the demonstrators from advancing to the border, many of whom were shouting: “No to the occupation!” and “Revolution, revolution to liberate Palestine!”
Among the marchers were a number of foreign peace activists wearing shirts bearing the image of an Italian colleague who was kidnapped and killed by Islamist radicals in the Gaza Strip exactly a month ago.
Further south, more than 5,000 demonstrators also held a mass rally in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, an AFP correspondent said.
They waved Palestinian flags and held up huge replica wooden keys to homes they fled or were expelled from during the Arab--Israeli war, which accompanied the creation of the Jewish state.
Since Friday, Palestinians and Arab Israelis have been staging a series of events in the run-up to yesterday’s anniversary.
Meanwhile, four protesters were killed and 11 wounded in a shooting incident at the Lebanese-Israeli border where Palestinians were demonstrating, Lebanese security sources said.
Israeli forces fired in the air to repel Palestinians demonstrating and the Lebanese army fired in the air in an attempt to stop protesters from reaching the border.
UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) urged the parties involved in a shooting incident to show “maximum restraint” to prevent casualties.
Spokesman Andrea Tenenti said UNIFIL was in contact with the Lebanese army and the Israeli military.
More than 3,000 police and border police officers were deployed across Israel yesterday, most of them in Jerusalem as well as in the northern Wadi Ara region in lower Galilee, where a large percentage of the population are Arab Israelis, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The army said it had imposed a 24-hour lockdown on the occupied territories that would end at midnight. Until then, only humanitarian cases would be allowed to cross from Palestinian areas into Israel, a statement said.
Tel Aviv police were still investigating an incident on Saturday in which a truck driven by a 22-year-old Arab Israeli ploughed into a bus and at least four cars, killing one person and injuring another five.
It was not clear whether it was an accident or whether the driver had been acting on nationalist motives, Rosenfeld said.
Israel celebrated the 63rd anniversary of its creation on Tuesday, in accordance with the Hebrew calendar.