Image: Israeli soldiers fix the border fence between Israel and Syria near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights
Ariel Schalit  /  AP
Israeli soldiers fix the border fence between Israel and Syria near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on Monday. news services
updated 5/16/2011 8:26:38 AM ET 2011-05-16T12:26:38

Israel's frontiers were quiet Monday after a violent day of border breaches, the military said.

Israeli troops shot Palestinian protesters who surged toward its frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday, killing at least 15 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.

The new challenge to Israel came from the borders of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza — all home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out in 1948.

Video: At least 15 dead as Palestinians protest (on this page)

Elswhere, Egyptian riot police fired tear gas and live ammunition overnight to disperse thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. A security official said Monday that at least 20 demonstrators were arrested.

Image: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators clash with Egyptian riot police
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators clash with Egyptian riot police near the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Sunday.

The rally in Cairo followed calls on Facebook for Arabs to march on Israel on Sunday in support of the Palestinians, who were holding annual ceremonies marking the "nakba," or "catastrophe" — the term Palestinians use to describe their defeat and displacement in the war that followed Israel's 1948 founding.

Egypt's Health Ministry said at least 353 people were hurt outside the embassy, mostly from smoke inhalation. A security official said that some protesters sustained bullet wounds and that one protester was in critical condition. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to the media.

Egypt's state-run news agency MENA said the protesters managed to push aside barricades placed around the embassy building and attempted to storm the embassy itself to tear down the Israeli flag, which prompted the police action.

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The protesters set fire to an Israeli flag, chanted anti-Israeli slogans and called for the expulsion of Israel's ambassador and the closure of the embassy.

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.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: At least 15 dead as Palestinians protest

  1. Closed captioning of: At least 15 dead as Palestinians protest

    >> of protests sweeps the middle east palestinian protesters clashed with troops sunday. at least 15 people were killed, dozens injured. we have nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel in giza, egypt with more. what sparked this?

    >> reporter: good morning, ann. palestinians were commemorating what they call the nokba, the arabic word for catastrophe which is how many describe the creation of the state of israel in 1948 . demonstrators decided to march on israel in the gaza strip in syria and in lebanon. some of the demonstrators tried to storm into israel itself throwing stones at israeli soldiers. the soldiers opened fire, killing 15. most of them in lebanon.

    >> richard, this was obviously well coordinated. you have been following this movement since it began. is there a direct correlation between it and what we have been seeing in terms of the arab spring revolts in egypt and the rest of the middle east ?

    >> reporter: it is directly related. in many ways it is an expansion of the arab spring movement which is still going on. it certainly was organized online, on facebook. in the beginning the arab revolts were focused on internal arab problems against mubarak, the president of tunisia. now they are widening the scope to include israel . israel says the shift is no coincidence and that syria , which has been criticized so heavily for its own crackdown is behind changing this tone of the arab spring trying to get people in the arab world to stop talking about syria and to focus instead on their anger against israel . whether this is driven by syria or whether it's spontaneous, the shift is certainly happening this morning there were violent clashes in front of the israeli embassy in cairo and in tahrir square a few days ago, which became iconic during the arab spring moment for the huge protests against mubarak. well, a couple days ago protesters were out in the tens of thousands chanting against israel saying "jerusalem, we are coming." it's significant.

    >> sounds like a watershed moment. thanks, richard engel .


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