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Syrian forces let activists cross ceasefire line

(AFP) / 15 June 2011

UNITED NATIONS — Syrian forces stood by as Palestinian demonstrators crossed the Golan Heights ceasefire line and were fired upon by Israeli forces, according to a UN report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

At least 27 people were killed in the demonstrations on May 15 and June 5 and some diplomats said the accounts given in the report reinforced claims that Syria is stirring up border troubles to divert attention from President Bashar Al Assad’s deadly crackdown on opposition protests.

The report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also said protests against Assad had spread to the border, and UN peacekeepers had been denied access to several districts.

The report on the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) monitoring the ceasefire between Syria and Israel did not accuse Syrians of organising the protests staged by Palestinians on symbolic days in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But each time Syrian forces were nearby, it stressed.

At the time of the protests, Ban issued a statement saying the incidents had jeapordized the ceasefire in place since 1974 and stressed Syria’s ‘obligation to protect UNDOF personnel and facilities.’

On May 15, about 4,000 mainly Palestinian demonstrators gathered on the Golan Heights on the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 creation.

The UN report said about 300 moved toward the Israeli side ‘and despite the presence of the Syrian police, crossed the ceasefire line, through an unmarked minefield’ and broke through an Israeli security fence.

Israeli forces at first fired tear gas, then warning shots and then used ‘direct fire,’ according to the UN, which said four dead and 41 wounded were reported.

On June 5, mainly unarmed young Palestinians again gathered at two places on the Golan Heights ceasefire line. ‘Despite the presence of Syrian security forces, protesters attempted to breach the ceasefire line in both locations,’ the UN said.

Israeli forces again used tear gas and then live fire to deter the demonstrators. The UN said up to 23 people were reported killed and many more wounded.

The report stressed that Israel and Syria had ‘generally’ cooperated with UNDOF, which has 1,041 troops from Austria, Philippines, India, Croatia, Japan and Canada.

But it said ‘anti-government demonstrations in Syria spread to several villages’ on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line. Since late April — as protests mounted — UN observer teams had been denied access to six villages ‘ostensibly for reasons of safety and security of the military observers,’ the report said.

A Western diplomat said: ‘The description of the demonstrations in the report lead to two obvious conclusions. First, that the Syrian authorities have been stoking up unrest on the border to deflect from their internal problems and their brutal repression of them.’

An envoy from a second Security Council nation said ‘these events show that what is going on inside Syria is a threat to regional peace.’

European powers have proposed a Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian violence but face opposition from Russia and China. Other council members have reservations about the resolution.


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