JERUSALEM (REUTERS)—Israeli troops shot Palestinian protesters who surged toward its frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday, killing at least 13 people on the day Palestinians mourn the establishment of Israel in 1948.
In the deadliest such confrontation in years of anniversary clashes usually confined to the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli forces opened fire in three separate border locations to prevent crowds of demonstrators from crossing frontier lines.
Combined with a public relations disaster last year over the killing of pro-Palestinian activists in a Gaza aid flotilla and a determined Palestinian diplomatic drive to win U.N. recognition of statehood in September this year, the bloody border protests raised the stakes further for Israel.
Israel's leaders condemned the incidents as provocations inspired by Iran, to exploit Palestinian nationalist feeling fueled by the popular revolts of the "Arab Spring," and to draw attention from major internal unrest in Syria, Iran's ally.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped the confrontations would not escalate.
"We hope the calm and quiet will quickly return. But let nobody be misled: we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty," Netanyahu said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement holds sway in the Israeli occupied West Bank and is ready to negotiate peace with Israel, said in a televised address that those killed were martyrs to the Palestinian cause.
"Their precious blood will not be wasted. It was spilled for the sake of our nation's freedom," Abbas said.
HAMAS PRAISES CLASHES
But Islamist Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and which last month sealed a surprise reconciliation pact with its bitter rival Fatah, issued a warning that Palestinians would accept nothing less than return to all lands lost in 1948.
Spokesman Taher Al-Nono praised the "crowds we have seen in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon" as evidence of "imminent victory and return to the original homes as promised by God."
In an apparent contradiction of suggestions that Hamas might ditch its rejection of Israel's right to exist, he said there was no alternative to recovering all land lost in 1948.
Israeli security forces had been on alert for violence on Sunday, the day Palestinians mourn the "Nakba," or catastrophe, of Israel's founding in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced to leave their homes.
A call had gone out on Facebook urging Palestinians to demonstrate on Israel's borders.
Lebanon's army said 10 Palestinians died as Israeli forces shot at rock-throwing protesters to prevent them from entering the Jewish State from Lebanese territory.
They said 112 people had been wounded in the shooting incident in the Lebanese border village of Maroun al-Ras.
"The protesters overcame the Lebanese army and marched toward the security fence and started throwing stones," Reuters cameraman Ezzat Baltaji said, from Maroun al-Ras village.
Syrian media reports said Israeli gunfire killed two people after dozens of Palestinians infiltrated the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria, along a front line that has been largely tranquil for decades.