MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights - Israeli troops yesterday battled hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who tried to burst across Syria's frontier with the Golan Heights, killing a reported 20 people and wounding scores more in the second outbreak of deadly violence in the border area in less than a month.
The clashes, marking the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Mideast war, drew Israeli accusations that Syria was orchestrating the violence to shift attention away from a bloody crackdown on opposition protests at home. The marchers, who had organized on Facebook, passed by Syrian and U.N. outposts on their way to the front lines.
"The Syrian government is trying to created a provocation," said Israel's chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. "This border has been quiet for decades, but only now with all the unrest in Syrian towns is there an attempt to draw attention to the border."
Human rights groups say President Bashar Assad's forces killed at least 25 people in northern Syria over the weekend, and another 65 activists were killed in the central city of Hama on Friday, as anti-government protests spread through the country demanding his resignation.
Israel had promised a tough response after being caught off guard in last month's demonstrations, when troops killed more than a dozen people in clashes along the Syrian and Lebanese borders.