Syria warns of more aggression on border with Israel

damascus, syria  |  A Syrian government newspaper said June 7 that more Syrians and Palestinians plan to march to the Israeli border, warning Israel the day will come when hundreds of thousands of refugees return to “their occupied villages.”

Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian and Syrian protesters June 5, reportedly killing as many as 23 people who tried to cross into the Golan Heights in Israel.

The protesters were not calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel — the stated goal of peace talks. Instead, they demanded a return to the homes of ancestors who lost properties during Israel’s War of Independence six decades ago.

The repeated attempts to challenge Israel’s borders have played into widespread Israeli fears that the Palestinians do not seek a state only in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — lands captured in the 1967 Six-Day War — but ultimately want to take over all of present-day Israel as well.

“The demand that has been raised over the last few days that descendants of Palestinian refugees return to the Jewish state is a demand that will kill the peace process,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Those who want to flood Israel with the descendants of Palestinian refugees want to destroy the Jewish state.”

Palestinian protesters try to break a fence along the border between Israel and Syria on June 5. photo/ap/ariel schalit

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States believes Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government is actively supporting the Palestinian protests.

“We don’t have any hard evidence,” Toner said. “But we’ve seen this kind of behavior before. And certainly it seems in keeping with the Syrian regime’s actions that they would try to deflect or distract international attention from what’s going on internally in Syria by encouraging these kind of protests.”

The Tishreen newspaper said the June 5 protests were only an “introduction,” adding that Syrians and Palestinians are now determined to recover “their territory” through resistance. It said Israel should expect 600,000 refugees to march “at any time.”

Israel’s military responded with a stern warning. It said in a statement that breaching the frontier lines “is a violation of international agreements,” and the military would “operate as necessary to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in the future.”

“Provocative rioters who breach the Israeli security fence place themselves in danger and must accept the responsibility for their actions,” the statement said.

The deaths from the June 5 protests led to violent tensions among Palestinian factions in Syria and a gunfight within the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. Clashes erupted June 6 at the camp between a group of Palestinians and the guards of a building belonging to the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command.

The clashes erupted following funeral processions for Palestinians who were killed June 5. They were sparked when some youths began shouting slogans against the PFLP-GC’s leaders and pelted them with stones.

The PFLP-GC issued a statement June 7 saying two of its members were killed and several of its offices were torched. It accused Palestinian “agents working for the Zionist enemy” of the killings and provocation.

Some relatives of Palestinians who died while marching June 5 reportedly were angered that the protest was allowed to happen, and some blamed the PFLP-GC.

Netanyahu on June 6 angrily accused Syria’s embattled president of orchestrating the protests to deflect attention from internal unrest. More broadly, Netanyahu said the Syrian-backed assault on Israel’s borders was fueling a Palestinian challenge to the very existence of the Jewish state.

“The argument is over the fact of the establishment of the state of Israel” in 1948, he told reporters after a meeting of his Likud party.