Protesters run from Syrian border - Reuters - June 5, 2011
Syrian and Palestinian protesters run away from teargas near the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights June 5, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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AFP
Demonstrators crossing the first line of Syria's border with Israel before trying to cut through a line of barbed wire and head into the Israeli Golan Heights, on June 5, 2011. Photo by AFP

Calm returned to Israel's border with Syria on Sunday night, after a day of demonstrations reportedly left up to 20 Syrian protesters dead.

State run Syria TV reported 20 people killed and 325 wounded by Israel Defense Forces fire along the border in the Golan Heights, in an attempt to prevent border infiltration and break up Naksa Day rallies commemorating 44 years since the Six-Day War. Israel captured Syria's Golan Heights in that conflict, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Despite the calm, there were reports out of Syria that protesters intended to spend the night on the border with Israel.

Protesters within Israel were also injured, after IDF forces fired tear gas at protesters in Majdal Shams, in response to stone throwing demonstrators.

The protests on the Syrian border began on Sunday morning, with a reported 500 Syrian Palestinian protesters arriving at the border. They hid from IDF fire in a ditch dug by the army after the Nakba Day protests on May 15, approximately 20 meters from the border fence.

Protesters cut through strands of barbed wire that Israel placed in an area between the fence, which is located inside Israeli territory, and the Syrian frontier designated by United Nations stone markers.

During the protest, there were reports that at least four anti-tank mines exploded near the Syrian town of Quneitra, injuring many protesters.

According to reports, protesters hurling Molotov cocktails led to a fire in the area, which resulted in triggering the mines' explosions.

IDF spokesman, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, said troops had opened fire but he could not confirm any casualties.

"It's a message to anyone who tries to violate Israel's sovereign borders," he said, describing the army's actions as a "measured, focused and proper response".

The IDF called the protests a "clear provocation intended to divert attention from what is happening in Syria."

Israel is concerned that the border protests by unarmed demonstrators are being used by Palestinians, inspired by popular revolts in the Arab world, to draw a violent response and gain more world sympathy for their cause.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Sunday's cabinet meeting accused "radical elements" of seeking provocations.

Hours before the violence flared, Netanyahu said he had ordered Israeli forces to act with restraint, but with determination, to prevent any border breach.

"To my regret, today there are extremists around us trying to breach our borders, and threaten our towns and citizens. We will not allow this," Netanyahu told his cabinet.

"Like any country in the world, Israel has the right and obligation to guard and defend its borders," he said earlier this week.