Israel Fires on Protesters at Border While Syrian Troops Attack Villagers
Israeli forces fired on a crowd marking the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War by trying to enter from Syria, where human rights groups said Syrian troops killed 25 protesters in a village in the country’s north.
A general strike took place for the second day today in the Syrian city of Hama in mourning for dozens of people killed there by security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad last week, according to the independent Web site Syrian Observatory, which is monitoring the unrest.
“The city is completely closed and the army has pulled out, but the people are scared” that the army may attack again, Mahmoud Merhi, the head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by telephone from Damascus.
Palestinian refugees and supporters attempted to breach the Israeli border of the Golan Heights from Syria, prompting Israeli troops to fire. Twenty-three people were killed and 350 injured, according to Syrian state-run television. Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich told CNN that Syria allowed the protest to reach the border in order to divert attention from its own internal unrest.
“Allowing the Palestinians to reach the fence with Israel is a useful distraction for Assad, who can’t stop the demonstrations against his regime,” Mordechai Kedar, a researcher at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, said in a telephone interview.
Protests Against Assad
Syrian forces have killed more than 1,100 people and detained more than 10,000 since protests against Assad began in mid-March, according to human rights groups. Assad hasn’t repeated his initial pledges of change in recent weeks as the crackdown on protesters has escalated.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that security forces would act with “determination” to prevent “extremist elements in the region” from penetrating the frontier.
Clashes between protesters and Israeli forces on the frontiers with Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and West Bank left as many as nine dead on May 15. Palestinian groups called for rallies today, the anniversary of the war that saw Israel capture the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem from Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
Israeli forces also clashed with some 200 Palestinian demonstrators at the Kalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, firing tear gas at stone-throwing protesters, the army said. No serious injuries were reported there and at other smaller protests in the West Bank.
The Lebanese army stopped dozens of refugees from approaching its fence with Israel, the state-run Lebanese National News Agency reported today.
In Libya, North Atlantic Treaty Organization jets hit a military barracks in the capital city Tripoli today, according to the Associated Press. British attack helicopters struck military targets for a second night, intensifying pressure in the campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces.
U.K. Apache helicopters from the carrier HMS Ocean destroyed a multiple rocket launcher near Brega, while Royal Air Force Tornado jets attacked a missile depot in Tripoli, according to a statement from U.K. military spokesman Major General Nick Pope. The previous night British and French attack helicopters had launched their first strikes.
Rebel fighters are now coordinating with NATO and have been told not to advance beyond certain points, according to a rebel military spokesman in Misrata, Commander Ibrahim Betalmal.
“No doubt NATO will help a great deal in clearing the way forward for us,” he said.
Rebels control most of eastern Libya as Qaddafi remains in power in Tripoli. The use of attack helicopters marks an escalation in the three-month-old conflict between Qaddafi’s troops and rebels trying to end his four-decade rule.
The helicopters fly at a lower altitude than jet fighters and are more easily able to pinpoint targets in close-range combat. They are also more vulnerable to ground fire.
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