Boy of 12 among dozens of protesters killed by Israelis
Twenty-THREE protesters, including a 12-year-old boy, have been shot dead by Israeli forces near the border fence on Golan Heights and a further 325 people injured, according to reports last night.
The violence happened as a large crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators approached the border to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel had vowed to prevent a repeat of a similar march last month, in which hundreds of people breached the fence.
The border on the Golan Heights at the town of Majdal Shams lies in a valley between two hill-tops, one in Israel and one in Syria.
An Israeli military spokesman said the soldiers fired at demonstrators after warning them to back away.
"Despite numerous warnings, both verbal and later warning shots in the air, dozens of Syrians continue to approach the border and IDF (Israel Defence Force] forces were left with no choice but to open fire towards the feet of protesters in efforts to deter further actions," said a spokesman.
On the Israeli side, locals - many of whom are Syrian citizens - from the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams, shouted at the soldiers, calling on them to stop firing.
Meanwhile, the troops used loudspeakers to warn demonstrators in Arabic that "anyone who comes close to the fence will be responsible for their own blood".
Hundreds of protesters rushed towards the ceasefire line, trying to cut through a razor wire barrier and head into the Golan Heights in a repeat of demonstrations last month, which saw thousands mass along Israel's north.
"Our aim is to plant the Syrian flag on the occupied land," protester Mohammed Shaiber told Syrian TV.
The Israeli military accused Syria of instigating the protests to deflect attention from its own crackdown on a popular uprising at home.
"This is an attempt to divert international attention from the bloodbath going on in Syria," said Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman.
Last night reports of protests in Syria claimed that security forces had shot dead 31 people in the last 48 hours during demonstrations in the north-west town of Jisr. Protests against president Bashar al-Assad have grown, despite reform gestures dismissed by the opposition and a crackdown that has killed at least 1,100 people since the uprising erupted two months ago.
The Israeli military spokeswoman added: "In the end, we are guarding our border.I wish they had obeyed our verbal warnings, but they chose instead to clash with the soldiers."
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet: "Unfortunately, extremist forces around us are trying today to breach our borders and threaten our communities and our citizens.
"We will not let them do that."
Mr Netanyahu said security forces had been ordered to show "maximum restraint".
The US state department said it was "troubled" by the loss of life on the Golan Heights.
"We call for all sides to exercise restraint," it said. "Provocative actions like this should be avoided."
Syrian TV said more than 300 protesters had been wounded.
An Israeli military spokeswoman told the Jerusalem Post newspaper they were only aware of 12 injuries.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 war, along with other territories including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The anniversary is known in Arabic as the Naksa, or "setback".
On 15 May, tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched on the borders with Israel, in the Palestinian territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
They were marking the 63rd anniversary of Nakba, which in Arabic means "catastrophe" - when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes amid the fighting after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
At least 12 people died during the 15 May demonstrations, which at one point saw hundreds manage to cross into the Golan Heights.
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