Netanyahu: Syria Provoking Israel to Divert Attention From Internal Bloodshed

Netanyahu says Assad's regime 'did not use its weight' and allowed protesters to gather along border to challenge Israel's sovereignty.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accuses Syria of deliberately attempting to inflame tensions along its border with Israel in order to divert attention from its bloody crackdown on internal protests.

A day after Syria reported that 23 people were killed in a Naksa Day rally along the border marking 44 years since the 1967 Six-Day War, Netanyahu told MKs from his Likud party that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime did not "use its weight to stop the events from happening."

Israeli soldiers patrol the border between Syria and Israel, close to the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, June 04, 2011. Credit: Reuters

"The Syrians allowed these people to instigate provocation, to challenge Israel's sovereignty," said Netanyahu. "This was an attempt to divert international intention from what is happening with Syria, and from the difficult events occurring in the city of Homa," said Netanyahu.

"We stand firm in our right to protect our citizens and our border, and will do this with restrain and responsibility," said Netanyahu.

The IDF operated within the realms of international law when it responded to the protesters, added Netanyahu. "We warned the neighboring states, we gave clear orders and warned those on the ground again and again," he said. "Gunshots were fired as a last resort after all other options had been exhausted.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said earlier Monday that Israel must remain on high alert, following the violent clashes that erupted a day earlier along the border with Syria.

"We must remain alert and prepared," said Gantz, adding: "The IDF is prepared to use all the defensive means at its disposal to prevent terrorist attacks and large-scale attempts to breach the border."

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

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.



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