Gantz tours North: 'We must maintain high level of alert'

Some 100 protesters remain at Kuneitra, Majdal Shams following Naksa Day attempts to infiltrate Israel; IDF rejects Syrian claims of 23 dead.

Benny Gantz 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Benny Gantz 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz visited a tank division in the North on Monday, a day after pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the area resulted in multiple casualties.
"We must continue to maintain a high level of alert and be prepared," said Gantz. We are prepared to deal with every obstacle and to activate our defenses against possible terrorist threats and against mass attempts to cross our borders."
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Gantz met with soldiers stationed at the border, IDF OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, and the commander of the division, Brig.-Gen. Eyal Zamir. They provided him with a detailed summary of the last 24 hours, information on the deployment of soldiers in the region and plans to take pro-active steps to deal with the current situation.
The IDF continued its increased presence along the border as some 100 demonstrators continued to linger at both Kuneitra and Majdal Shams following repeated attempts to infiltrate the border on Sunday as part of Naksa Day protests.
While the protesters were not attempting to cross the border on Monday morning, the IDF remained prepared for a renewal of activity. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the IDF is prepared for the possibility that protesters will continue to demonstrate at the border.
Syrian Health Minister Wael al-Halki claimed 23 activists were killed, and 350 were wounded, in the clashes to commemorate the Palestinian “Naksa,” or “setback” of the 1967 Six-Day War on Sunday, although the numbers could not be verified. The IDF rejected the reports of 23 deaths as "exaggerated," Army Radio reported on Monday.
Barak told Israel Radio that he believed the death count was under 20.
The Army said that at least eight protesters who died in Naksa Day border clashes were killed by land mines that exploded on the Syrian side of the border, after the rioters threw gasoline bombs, which exploded in a field, starting a fire that then set off the mines.
An IDF official said that it was clear the Syrian government gave the green light for the protesters to move toward the border, and contrasted this with the situation on Sunday in Lebanon, where the border was quiet.
“One can only suppose that there was a decision taken in Syria to exploit the situation to change the subject from what is going on inside Syria,” the official said. The official also asked whether the Palestinians feel comfortable “being used as a propaganda tool by an authoritarian government butchering its own people.”
On Sunday, protesters massed at the border without interference from Syrian troops, in what the IDF described as a provocation by President Basher Assad that was designed to distract world attention away from the ongoing slaughter of protesters in Syria by Assad’s troops.
Yaakov Lappin and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.