PM points finger at Syria for arranging ‘Naksa Day’ events

US cites Israel’s right to defend itself; Russia concerned by death of "peaceful" protesters; EU calls for "measured, proportionate" response.

Netanyahu 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel accused the Syrians on Monday of orchestrating the events that led to Sunday’s violence on the Golan border, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying the incident was “not a coincidence,” and Israel filing a protest with the UN General Assembly placing responsibility for the deaths on Damascus.
The Syrians reported that more than 20 people were killed and hundreds were injured, but the IDF said there were fewer casualties. The numbers were not independently confirmed.
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Netanyahu said the incident was an attempt to “heat up the border, and to breach our borders.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, “I can’t say that the Syrian government used all its weight to prevent a provocation. It allowed those people to carry out a provocation that was a challenge to Israeli sovereignty.”
Netanyahu said this was an attempt by Damascus to “divert international attention” from what was happening inside Syria.
Netanyahu said the “struggle is not around the fifth of June [the start of the 1967 Six Day War], but rather the 15th of May 1948. The dispute is over the very existence of the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu said the Arab attacks on Israel in 1948 created two refugee problems: a Jewish one and a Palestinian one. While Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, the Arab countries never solved the Arab refugee problem.
“Now the descendants of the Palestinian refugees want to flood Israel and breach its borders. This is not just or logical, and is an effort to realize a fantasy that will endanger the peace of the region,” he said.
Netanyahu expressed regret for the loss of life, but said those who came to the border were warned against doing so.
“We are obligated to defend our borders, like all other countries. The IDF acted in accordance with international law, we warned that we would defend our borders,” he said.
A formal protest, along the lines that Netanyahu articulated, was lodged Monday with the UN secretary-general and the Security Council.
The protest said that while Israel understands the right of freedom of expression and demonstration, Sunday’s event turned violent when the protesters made clear their intention to cross the border. Israel had warned the international community that there would be provocations, and made clear it would defend the integrity of its borders. It also said that Syria did not do what was incumbent upon it by preventing the protesters from approaching the border.
Israeli government officials, meanwhile, expressed a degree of frustration with a statement put out by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he “condemns the use of violence and all actions intended to provoke violence.”
This was a balance that was jarring, one official said.
There was more satisfaction, however, with the US response. The State Department issued a statement saying “We are deeply troubled by attempts on Sunday to cross the disengagement line in the Golan Heights, resulting in injuries and the loss of life, and condemn the Syrian government’s involvement in inciting these events. It is clear that such behavior will not distract attention from the Syrian government’s ongoing repression of demonstrators.
“As we have said,” the statement continued, “Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself. We call for an end to the violence and for all sides to exercise restraint.”
Russia, meanwhile, expressed “deep concern in relation to the new surge of Israeli-Palestinian confrontations.
The death and injury of many peaceful demonstrators in the course of these protests is of particular concern,” a statement said.
This response did not particularly surprise officials in Jerusalem, with one government source pointing out that Russia – with a long time patron-client relationship with Syria – has protected Damascus from stronger international actions.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton responded to the incident by calling on Israel to respond in a way that is “measured and proportionate.”
The incident, she said in a statement on Monday, “could undermine the long-held cease-fire on the Golan.”
“I call on all parties to exercise restraint,” she said, adding that “provocative actions like this should be avoided.”
She said that Sunday’s events, combined with the demonstrations that took place on the northern border on May 15, “emphasize the urgency to resume peace negotiations for a comprehensive and sustainable resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Hilary Leila Krieger and Reuters contributed to this report.