Syrian demonstrators flee border - AFP - June 5, 2011
Demonstrators flee from IDF teargas along Syria's border with Israel while trying to cut through a line of barbed wire, as seen from Majdal Shams, on June 5, 2011. Photo by AFP
Text size

An Israel Defense Forces investigation into the violent clashes on the border with Israel revealed on Monday that troops had been limited in their use of sniper fire, only firing a few live bullets at the protesters trying to breach the border.

Syria said on Monday that 23 people were killed in Sunday's "Naksa Day" rally, commemorating 44 years since the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel captured Syria's Golan Heights in that conflict, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Senior IDF officials told Haaretz that the army's operation was carried out in a way to reduce the number of injuries among the protesters.

According to the IDF inquiry, a number of Syrian protesters had been killed when Molotov cocktails which the protesters had been throwing set off an anti-tank minefield, near the border town of Quneitra.

The IDF said that since all the casualties were on the Syrian side of the border it was unable to provide an exact count, but it expressed great skepticism about the Syrian figures. Soldiers fired "with precision" at the bottom half of the bodies of the protesters, the army said.

The army accused the Syrian government of creating a deliberate provocation in an effort to divert world attention from its ongoing bloody repression of pro-democracy protests at home.

The IDF had prepared for mass infiltration attempts along every possible border on Sunday, but the main attempts occurred at two locations in the Golan, Majdal Shams and the Quneitra crossing.

In contrast to Nakba Day - when the IDF was caught unprepared, with only a handful of troops on the normally quiet border - two full battalions were stationed at Majdal Shams Sunday, and a third at Quneitra. They were backed by police officers as well as by dogs and dog handlers from the IDF's canine unit.

The IDF had also reinforced the border with extra barbed wire and deepened the ditch between the double fence.

Syrian police officers in the area simply stood aside and let the marchers pass. The protesters were accompanied by crews from Syria's government TV station.

When the protesters neared the border at Majdal Shams, IDF officers told them in Arabic to stop, as continuing could endanger their lives. When dozens nevertheless kept going, soldiers started firing into the air. When the marchers reached the first fence, snipers were ordered to fire at their legs from about 200 meters away.

At Quneitra, in contrast, soldiers mainly used nonlethal weaponry like tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets, with which all troops along the border had been equipped following the Nakba Day incidents. The use of nonlethal means was possible because the confrontations took place at much closer range.

The IDF acknowledged that "dozens" of marchers were hurt, but said the Syrian figure of 23 dead sounded highly unlikely.