Israeli troops today clashed with Arab protesters along three hostile borders, including the frontier with Syria, leaving 16 people dead and dozens more wounded in an unprecedented wave of demonstrations.
Along Israel's border with Syria, thousands of protesters stormed the fence and hundreds burst through, pelting soldiers with stones, the military said. Soldiers guarding the border opened fire to stop them. Dozens were wounded and four were reported killed.
The unrest came as the Palestinians marked the 'nakba', or 'catastrophe', the term they use to describe their defeat and displacement in the war at the time of Israel's founding in 1948.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spoke to Muslim worshipers on Sunday morning, telling them to pray for an end to Israel.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat on Sunday also commented on Nakba Day events, telling Israel Radio, "This is the day of my nakba, it is the day when my nation was interrupted. Sixty-three years later, we're still interrupted, we're still under occupation. If I want to go to Jerusalem, I still need to ask permission from one of your kids, your soldiers."
Commenting about a plan in which Israel would agree to a Palestinian state on 1967 borders if the Palestinians agreed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Erekat said "Your title is the State of Israel, and that is how we recognize you. It's none of my business to determine who you are. I want to hear the numbers 1-9-6-7 from Netanyahu. Until we don't hear that, we're not going to waste our time."
From Palestinian Liberation:
Palestinians have declared Sunday's protests on Israel's borders a historic moment in the Middle East conflict, a turning point inspired by Arab revolts that could set the tone for more activism to come.
Coming three weeks after rival Palestinian groups agreed to end four years of internal conflict, leading Palestinians say the protests have injected new hope into their national struggle as the U.S.-led peace process has ground to a complete halt.
Some predict more and bigger protests in the run up to September, when, barring a miraculous breakthrough in negotiations, President Mahmoud Abbas says he will ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state.
"There is a sense of solidarity and unity and that is a source of empowerment," said Hanan Ashrawi, a leading member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. "The movement of non-violent protest will continue," she said.
Over 350 protesters were injured and 150 were arrested late Sunday when military and riot police forces cracked down on a protest outside the Israeli embassy commemorating the Palestinian Nakba.
The demonstration outside the Israeli embassy started on the evening of the previous day, May 14, with approximately 30 protesters calling for the liberation of the Palestinian people.
Protests continued on Sunday when more joined the demonstrators. By the afternoon, Israeli flags were being burnt and some people were chanting “death, death to Israel.”
By 8 pm on Sunday, protesters had grown more rowdy with some perched on top of the gate to the entrance of the small street leading to the embassy, ignoring the barbed wire and the Egyptian army officers’ lackluster hand motions for them not to descend onto the ground. At approximately 9:20 pm, army officers fired into the air for five minutes and the crowd outside the gate dispersed, only to return once the firing had ceased.
About 20 minutes later, riot police arrived on the scene and fired tear gas canisters onto Nahdet Masr Square, where the crowds had assembled.
For the next two hours, officers continued to fire canisters onto the square, yet demonstrators were still converging outside the embassy. Some protesters were moving in waves; retreating and coming back down towards the embassy once the white mist had cleared.
“We are not declaring war on Israel; only the Ministry of Defense can declare war. … I don’t have a gun and I don’t want to shoot someone. We just want to cut the diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. … Israel is our enemy,” Islam Amin Ali, a 19-year-old student at the faculty of commerce said.
From the U.S. State Department: