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Nakba Protests See Unprecedented Violence

Samara Greenberg

Israeli forces clashed with protesters along its borders on Sunday as Palestinians and Palestinian supporters mourned the creation of Israel on Nakba Day, or Catastrophe Day, held each year on May 15 to mark Israel’s birth.

At the border crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Palestinians attacked IDF soldiers with stones and gasoline bombs. In the Gaza Strip, one Palestinian was killed and at least 80 wounded when thousands of Palestinians marched toward Israeli border crossings.

From Syria, thousands of protesters stormed the fence and broke through the barrier that separates its southern border with Israel. Israeli soldiers were forced to open fire, wounding dozens and killing four. And in Lebanon, ten people were reportedly killed as rioters attempted to break through that border fence with Israel. Israel has suggested that the Lebanese army, which fired in the air to disperse the protesters, might be responsible for some of the deaths.

Rioters cross from Syria into Israel during demonstrations on Nakba Day.

Sunday’s breach of Syria’s border with Israel is unprecedented, and there is reason to believe the rioters received backing from authorities – perhaps in an attempt to distract attention away from the Asad regime’s deadly and ongoing crack-down on protesters. “Since the Syrian army is known to control tightly the entire length of the border, it is hard to believe that a mass rush of that sort was done without the approval and perhaps even active co-operation of the army,” Yigal Palmor, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said.

So what does this all mean for Israel and the U.S.? According to Syrian dissident Radwan Ziadeh, “It’s a message by the Syrian government…If you continue the pressure on us, we will ignite the front with Israel.” It could also have been a reminder of what may come if Bashar al-Asad’s regime, like Egypt’s Mubarak, falls, according to other analysts.

If the Syrian regime was in fact behind the breach, perhaps more than anything, Sunday’s events highlight just how far Asad is willing to go to maintain his grip on power. Indeed, igniting a regional conflict is not beyond the scope of what Bashar is willing to do if it will help keep his regime intact.