Israel hunts Syria infiltrators after day of bloodshed
16 May 2011 by Majeda El Batsh
Hundreds of police fanned out across the Golan Heights on Monday in search of refugees who crossed over from Syria in some of the bloodiest violence in years along Israel's borders.
In Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories, people gathered to mourn the 14 people killed when Israeli troops opened fire on thousands of protesters who sought to breach its northern borders.
Hundreds were injured in the occupied Golan Heights, as well as in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank and northern Gaza Strip as Palestinians marked the anniversary of Israel's founding in 1948, in an event known in Arabic as the "nakba" or "catastrophe."
Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said house-to-house searches were ongoing on Monday and roadblocks had been set up around the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams, where protesters who crossed over from Syria gathered.
"We arrested three Palestinians today who had come from Syria, two of them during searches in Majdal Shams," Rosenfeld told AFP.
"A fourth Palestinian managed to reach the Tel Aviv region where he has been taken into custody. Like the others, he is being questioned. We'll decide later what to do with them."
Israeli media identified the fourth Palestinian as Hassan Hijazi, 28, an employee of the Syrian education ministry.
Interviewed by Israel's privately owned Channel 10 television, Hijazi spoke of his pride at making it to Jaffa, his ancestral hometown, now a mixed Arab-Jewish district of greater Tel Aviv.
"This isn't Israel, this is my country," he said. "I don't want to go back to Syria. I want to stay here where my father and my great-grandfather were born and bring my family here."
Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai told army radio the military remained "in a state of high alert in the north, the south and the centre."
Defence chiefs also extended a 24-hour lockdown on the occupied Palestinian territories which had been due to end at midnight on Sunday.
The White House accused Syria of stoking protests in the Golan Heights as a "distraction" from its repression of anti-government protests, which entered a third month Sunday.
The United States is "strongly opposed to the Syrian government's involvement in inciting yesterday's protests in the Golan Heights," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"Such behaviour is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government's ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country," Carney said.
Sunday's violence was some of the worst in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights since a 1974 armistice, and the clashes along the Lebanese border marked the bloodiest confrontation since the 2006 war between the two neighbours.
Most of the victims were in Lebanon, where 10 people were killed and 110 injured when Israeli troops opened fire on people trying to scale the border fence.
Another four people were killed when they entered the Golan Heights, along with hundreds of other protesters, Syrian medics said.
The Israeli army said "dozens" had been injured in the two incidents, along with 13 soldiers.
In Gaza, 125 people were injured, five of them seriously, when troops opened fire as more than 1,000 Palestinians marched on the northern Erez crossing.
Elsewhere, 29 others were injured in clashes in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.
Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon declared a day of mourning, with shops observing a general strike ahead of the funerals for the 10 victims, which were taking place in four refugee camps on Monday.
In the Palestinian territories, President Mahmud Abbas announced a two-hour strike in all public institutions except schools and ordered all Palestinian flags be flown at half-mast.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern over the violence and urged all sides to show the "utmost responsibility" to avoid new hostilities, a spokesman said.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Jewish state was "determined" to defend its borders against protesters bent on denying Israel's right to exist.
More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict that accompanied the Jewish state's foundation.
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