Image: A wounded protester is dragged away from the Syrian-Israeli border near Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights
Ronen Zvulun  /  Reuters
A wounded protester is dragged away from the Syrian-Israeli border June 5 near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights.
updated 6/15/2011 5:04:40 PM ET 2011-06-15T21:04:40

Syrian security forces did nothing to prevent demonstrators from crossing into Israel in May or attempting to break through cease-fire lines on the Golan Heights in June, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a new report.

In the report to the U.N. Security Council obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Ban did not say who was behind the confrontations, but he called on the Israelis and Syrians "to show restraint and refrain from provocations."

The Syrian-Israeli border has been quiet for nearly 40 years, and Israel has accused the Syrian government of fomenting the two confrontations to draw attention from the three-month uprising in the country. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have died, some 10,000 have been detained and thousands have been forced to flee their homes since the unrest began in February.

Image: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Ivan Franco  /  EPA
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

The secretary-general said the U.N. peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights has not been able to confirm reports that Israeli military fire killed four civilians and injured 40 others in the May 15 incident, and killed up to 23 people and wounded many more on June 5.

He said the two incidents "are of grave concern."

The May 15 unrest occurred on the anniversary of Israel's birth in 1948, a day the Palestinians refer to as the "nakba," or "catastrophe."

Ban said approximately 4,000 civilians, the vast majority Palestinian, gathered on the Syrian side of the border, opposite the Israeli village of Majdal Chams.

"The gathering was supervised by Syrian security forces and the Syrian authorities," he said.

In the early afternoon, Ban said, approximately 300 demonstrators suddenly moved toward the Israeli side "and despite the presence of the Syrian police, crossed the cease-fire line, through an unmarked mine field."

They broke through a fence that had been erected by the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF, which used tear gas and fired warning shots followed by direct fire to disperse the crowd, he said. "Approximately 100 of the protesters entered Majdal Chams and demonstrated in the town center," he said, adding that the majority later returned to the Syrian side.

The June 5 clashes marked the Arabs defeat in the 1967 Mideast war.

Ban said demonstrators, mostly young unarmed Palestinians, again massed in the same area on the Syrian side and also at the official crossing point for U.N. peacekeepers.

"Despite the presence of Syrian security forces, protesters attempted to breach the cease-fire line in both locations," he said. "The IDF used tear gas and smoke grenades to deter the protesters, and live fire to prevent them crossing the cease-fire line."

During the confrontation, Ban said, several anti-tank mines exploded due to a brush fire apparently started by tear gas or smoke grenade canisters near U.N. peacekeeping facilities at the crossing point resulting in casualties among protesters. He said Syrian, Israeli and U.N. fire squads extinguished the blaze.

The secretary-general recommended that the Security Council extend the mandate of more than 1,000-strong U.N. force, which expires June 30, for six months until Dec. 2011.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Palestinians challenge Israel border again

  1. Closed captioning of: Palestinians challenge Israel border again

    >>> tensions are running high in the middle east yet again this morning. nbc's stephanie gosk is following the story from tripoli, libya. good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, natalie. well, taking their inspiration from the peaceful demonstrations of the arab spring, unarmed palestinians and their supporters challenged the israeli military on the syria - israel border for the second time in a month. and for the second time in a month it lead to bloodshed. [ gunfire ]

    >> reporter: gunfire again in the golan heights . unarmed palestinians and their supporters attempted to push across the border from syria into israel . [ gunfire ]

    >> reporter: when warning shots didn't stop them, direct fire did. israeli officials are calling it a deliberate provocation, supported, they say, by the syrian government to deflect attention from its own internal uprising. it was the worst violence between the two countries in more than 30 years. syria says 22 were killed, israel says only 12 were injured. and with the new front in the arab spring taking hold in israel , a familiar uprising entered a new phase. in yemen , thousands celebrated the sudden and unexpected departure of president ali abdullah saleh . he fly to saudi arabia for specialized medical treatment after being injured in a rocket attack on his compound friday. an operation reportedly removed shrapnel from the leader's chest, but there is no official word on his condition. many hope the man that has ruled yemen for 33 years as a dictator will not come back, and they fear what might happen if he does.

    >> i think there's a strong chance that the civil war will take place in yemen . and yemen will see a war that will last for many, many, many years.

    >> reporter: despite what the embattled president decides to do, it may be too early for celebrations. even if saleh does not return, there are still competing armed factions vying for power in yemen , and an active branch of al qaeda looking to take advantage of the chaos. natalie?

    >> stephanie gosk in tripoli, libya, this morning. thank you, stephanie .


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