Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today declared three days of mourning for the 15 people killed in mass protest marches toward Israel’s borders from Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.
The marches, on the date Palestinians mourn their uprooting as a result of Israel’s 1948 creation, illustrated Arab dissatisfaction with the deadlocked efforts to establish a Palestinian state. The unprecedented tactic also reflected an Arab world emboldened by the anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East this year.
Mr Abbas, who is pursuing alternative routes to statehood after a breakdown in peace talks with Israel, quickly embraced those who tried to breach Israel’s borders.
“Their blood will not be spilled in vain, because their blood was spilled for the freedom and rights of our people,” he said.
Flags at public buildings in the West Bank were lowered to half-mast.
Some in Israel suspected an Iranian hand in the attempted border breaches, with the help of Tehran’s allies in the region: Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Palestinian officials said the marches were a purely Palestinian initiative, organised on Facebook by activists, many of them living in exile.
Israel said it would file a complaint against Syria and Lebanon at the UN.
Earlier the unrest spilled over into Egypt, where riot police fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.
Israeli security forces were out in large numbers in northern Israel having been taken by surprise the day before.
Israel was expecting the unrest to centre in the West Bank, as it has in years past. Instead, thousands of Palestinians and their supporters in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza descended on Israel’s borders in an unprecedented outpouring.
The most surprising development were the hundreds who poured across the Syrian frontier into the Israeli-held Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move that has not been recognised internationally.
The rare incursion from the tightly controlled Syrian side drew Israeli accusations that Damascus and its ally Iran orchestrated the unrest to shift attention from an uprising within Syria against the regime of President Basher Assad. Four infiltrators were killed in the ensuing clash with Israeli security forces.
On the nearby Lebanese border, 10 people were reported killed when protesters approached the fence with Israel. The Israeli military said it opened fire when protesters tried to damage the fence.
Palestinians were marking the “nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the term they use to describe their displacement in the war surrounding Israel’s founding on May 15, 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted. Today, the surviving refugees and their descendants number several million people.