A Syrian government newspaper said Tuesday that more Syrians and Palestinians plan to march to the Israeli border, warning Israel the day will come when hundreds of thousands of refugees return to their occupied villages.
Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian and Syrian protesters Sunday, killing as many as 23 people who tried to cross into the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
The article referred to Palestinian refugees in camps in Syria, as well as Syrians who fled the Golan Heights when Israel captured the strategic plateau in the 1967 Mideast war.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. believes President Bashar Assad’s government is actively supporting the Palestinian protests near the Israeli border.
“We don’t have any hard evidence,” Toner said. “But we’ve seen this kind of behavior before. And certainly it seems in keeping with the Syrian regime’s actions that they would try to deflect or distract international attention from what’s going on internally in Syria by encouraging these kind of protests.”
The Tishreen newspaper said the Sunday march was only an “introduction,” adding Syrians and Palestinians were now determined to recover their territory through resistance.
It said Israel should expect 600,000 refugees to march “at any time” back to their villages and farms from where their families were forcefully uprooted.
Israel’s military responded with a stern warning. It said in a statement that breaching the frontier lines “is a violation of international agreements,” and the military would “operate as necessary to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in the future.”
“Provocative rioters who breach the Israeli security fence place themselves in danger and must accept the responsibility for their actions,” the statement said.
The deaths from Sunday’s march led to violent tensions among Palestinian factions in Syria and a gunfight within the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. Clashes erupted late Monday at the camp between a group of Palestinians and the guards of a building belonging to the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.
The clashes erupted following funeral processions for Palestinians who were killed Sunday by Israeli gunfire on the Golan Heights. They were sparked when some youths began shouting slogans against the PFLP-GC’s leaders and pelted them with stones.
The PFLP-GC issued a statement Tuesday saying two of its members were killed and several of its offices were torched. It accused Palestinian “agents working for the Zionist enemy” of the killings and provocation.
Some relatives of Palestinians who died while marching Sunday were reportedly angered that the march was allowed to happen and some blamed the PFLP-GC.
A two-year war that followed Israel’s creation in 1948 displaced about 700,000 Palestinians. Together with their descendants, they number several million today. According to U.N. figures, about 450,000 refugees and their descendants are registered in Syria.
Roughly 100,000 Syrians fled the Golan Heights when Israel captured the territory in 1967. AP
Photo: Seen from the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan , armed Syrian police officers stand on a outlook overlooking the Israeli side of the border between Syria and Israel, Tuesday, June 7, 2011. A Syrian government newspaper says marches to the border will continue and warns Israel the day will come when thousands of Syrians will return to their occupied villages.