Israeli fire leaves protesters killed, wounded in South Lebanon, Golan on Nakba Day

Lebanon complains Israel to Security Council

Lebanese president says nakba is shame on Israel

Syria condemns Israeli assault on civilians in Golan, Lebanon and Palestine

Future Movement rejects accusations of interference in Syria crisis

Authorities and opposition in Syria trade accusations, confrontations

Recriminations continued to fly over Israel’s shooting dead of 11 Palestinian protesters, as the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon launched an investigation into the bloodiest incident on the Blue Line since 2006.

As a period of mourning was declared in Lebanon’s 12 official refugee camps and dozens of wounded protesters continued hospital treatment, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah paid tribute to those killed along Israel’s borders in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.

“We must bow before the courage, the valor, of those who protested at Lebanon and Syria’s borders with occupied Palestine, who faced the tyranny of the enemy with bare chests and their heads held high,” Nasrallah said in a statement.

“You have proven to both friend and foe [alike] that commitment to your rights is non-negotiable, won’t be forgotten and won’t be wasted, and that your return to your homes, your land and holy places are your right and goal,” he added.

President Michel Sleiman conducted intensive meetings with political and security officials, including Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi, who briefed the president on his force’s activities Sunday.

Sleiman also met with United States Ambassador Maura Connelly and asked the envoy to ensure her country, as a patron to the peace process, to hold Israel accountable for its actions and prevent future Israeli violations of international law and human rights conventions.

Israel, for its part, filed a complaint against Lebanon and Syria with the U.N. Security Council, following Lebanon’s complaint against its belligerence Sunday.

The Lebanese Army and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) conducted extensive border patrols Monday as calm returned to the south.

UNIFIL deputy spokesperson Andrea Tenenti confirmed that his force had begun an investigation into Sunday’s incident, which wounded more than 100 protesters who were marking the 63rd anniversary of Palestinian displacement from their homeland.

“At the moment, we have started an investigation to ascertain the facts. Most of the issues, we can only talk about things after the investigation was over. It was a tragic incident,” Tenenti told The Daily Star.

“The Lebanese Army was in charge of the situation and responsible for law and order in the area, as they always are.

UNIFIL worked with them and we were in regular contact with them throughout the day.”

Tenenti said that while the Lebanese Army had asked for UNIFIL to conduct both aerial surveillance of the Blue Line during the protest and meditate with Israeli military command, the force received no request to deploy on the ground close to Maroun al-Rass before the killings occurred.

“Late morning, the [Lebanese Army] requested assistance with aerial observation along the Blue Line and we did. We were in contact with the parties, urging them to use maximum restraint to prevent casualties and at the same time carrying out our regular activities,” he said.

“We did our most there. We were assisting the Lebanese Army at their request. There was no request for deployment of UNIFIL troops.”

Tenenti added that the findings of UNIFIL’s investigation into the incident “will study violations of the Blue Line and the result will be, in a way, to whoever involved, advice to how the situation could have been avoided.”

The media department of the Lebanese Forces called on the government to “prevent any party from tampering with southern security.” In a thinly veiled critique of March 8 parties, a statement said the killings “implicates the party that is manipulating the emotions of these enthusiastic youth to serve their own private interest.

“This responsibility is on a par with the criminal responsibility that Israel should bear,” it said.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said the shootings represented “a new start in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which will force Israel sooner or later to acknowledge legitimate international Palestinian rights.”

Marada Movement head Sleiman Franjieh, for his part, said Israel’s killing of unarmed protesters was “symptomatic of the enemy’s savagery and its continued violation of human rights.”

Israel’s army accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of “organizing” Sunday’s violence on the Golan Heights as a way to divert attention from pro-democracy protests sweeping his country.

“The Syrian authorities organized this violent incident in order to divert world opinion away from what is happening in their cities,” army spokeswoman Avital Leibovitz told AFP.

Israeli troops wounded “dozens” of people when they opened fire at protesters from Syria forcing their way onto the disputed Golan Heights on Sunday, the military said.

The army said soldiers opened fire when “thousands of Syrian civilians breached the Israel-Syria border near the Israeli village of Majdal Shams.”

But Leibovitz later clarified that although there were thousands of protesters, only dozens had managed to cross the frontier, in an incident she described as “very serious and violent.”

“Thousands of protesters from the Syrian side of the border attacked our troops with stones and dozens of them entered into Israel,” she said, toning down an army statement that “thousands” had crossed.

“Our forces unleashed warning shots to keep them back” from Israeli-annexed territory on the plateau which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, Leibovitz said.

This was “a very serious and violent incident which threatens the security of the inhabitants of Israel and violates its territory,” she said.

Syria condemned Sunday the "crimes Israel practiced against our people in the Golan Heights," the Palestinian territories and south Lebanon, urging the international community to hold Israel fully responsible for these practices, the official SANA news agency reported.

Hundreds of Palestinians tried Sunday to cross the separation line between Israel and Syria when they came under the Israeli fire.

Sunday's "popular movement" was the result of Israel's disregard of international resolution, its continued "usurpation of lands and rights, and its evasion from the prerequisites of a just and comprehensive peace," SANA quoted a statement by Syrian Foreign Ministry as saying.

According to SANA, two Palestinians were killed and 72 others were wounded in the Israeli attack against Arab citizens who were commemorating the Nakba Day in the Eid El-Tina village on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Israeli borders, and in Majdal Shams village in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Mamdouh Abaza, head of a hospital in Quneitra province, said the wounded are suffering from medium to severe wounds, and most of them have suffocation symptoms as a result of the tear gas, according to SANA.

The separation line is observed by the United Nations disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) who were sent to the disputed Golan Heights at the end of the 1973 war to maintain the ceasefire on the Golan Heights and keep the situation calm between Syria and Israel.

The Palestinians were responding to a call made by Palestinian groups urging Palestinians to march to Israel to commemorate the Nakba Day, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homeland in 1948 and the Israeli state was established.

Syria has long stood alongside the Palestinian rights and backed the Palestinian struggle to restore "legitimate usurped rights and lands," said the statement.

The March 14 Secretariat General warned Wednesday against Hezbollah’s involvement in a false Syrian campaign against the Future Movement in a bid to accomplish political gains in Lebanese politics.

“We hold Hezbollah … responsibility for its involvement in this campaign to cover up for its failure or the failure of the interests of its regional axis, which threatens the country’s stability,” a statement released by the Secretariat General said.

Hezbollah’s Executive Council head, Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, accused the Future Movement earlier this month of involvement in a conspiracy to undermine Syrian stability after Syrian state television aired last week what were termed “confessions” accusing the Future Movement of arming Syrian opposition factions.

The “confessions” included a three-member terror cell who alleged they had received funding and weaponry from Future Movement official and Western Bekaa MP Jamal Jarrah in order to fuel the wave of popular pro-reform protests currently sweeping the country.

“Since the protests kicked off in Syria, the authorities have sought to tie it to a conspiracy theory, and Syrian state television, along with Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, launched false accusations against the Future Movement for intervening in Syrian affairs,” the statement said.

One day after Syrian state-run television aired the “confessions,” Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali urged the Lebanese judiciary to take action against Jarrah.

“Hezbollah considered the campaign an opportunity and seized on it to attack the Future Movement by adopting the false accusations in a bid to settle scores and cover up for the crisis that the party is witnessing amid March 14’s position demanding Hezbollah’s disarmament,” the statement added.

Qaouk has accused caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement parliamentary bloc of seeking to weaken Hezbollah’s influence by manipulating Syrian stability.

“[The Future bloc’s] involvement is the greatest national sin, as it has gotten embroiled in a project that is greater than it and this will definitely affect Lebanon’s national interest,” Qaouk said.

Echoing the Future Movement’s call Tuesday, the secretariat urged caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Shami to summon Syrian ambassador to Lebanon to ask the latter to clarify his position.

Shami has responded to the Future Movement demand, saying that he did not have the right to summon the Syrian ambassador without the approval of the government.

However, Beirut MP Ammar Houri condemned Shami’s statement Wednesday, recalling that the caretaker foreign minister summoned Washington’s ambassador to Lebanon, Maura Connelly, in January without the approval of the government.

In a separate statement, Future Movement official and Chouf MP Mohammad Hajjar urged Speaker Nabih Berri to take action to protect lawmakers and assume his responsibility as head of Parliament by calling for a meeting of parliamentary committees.

However, Berri responded Wednesday saying that no memo had been submitted to the speaker’s office to discuss with regard to Jarrah’s case.

“I am not aware of the reasons behind such misleading statements since the Constitution and Parliament’s by-laws are clear on the issue,” he said.

For his part, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said Lebanon’s internal problems required the Lebanese to refrain from interacting with regional events to avoid negative repercussions on the domestic scene, a reference to Hizb Ut-Tahrir’s plan to hold demonstrations in Tripoli Friday in support of Syrian opposition forces.

Meanwhile, Syria's security forces are pressing a deadly town-by-town crushing of dissent and mass round-up of opposition leaders, rights activists said, as Washington slammed the "barbaric" repression.

Thousands of students meanwhile defied the crackdown to stage a protest in Syria's second-largest city Aleppo late Wednesday before being dispersed by baton-wielding loyalists and security force personnel, a rights activist said.

At least 19 civilians were killed on Wednesday as troops and unknown gunmen assaulted protest hubs across the country, shelling and firing on some and encircling others with tanks, according to accounts by human rights activists.

Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy, the head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, Ammar Qurabi, told AFP.

Sniper fire killed 13 people, including the youngster, in the village of Al-Harra, near the protest centre of Daraa, south of Damascus, Qurabi said.

Tank fire killed five people in the Baba Amr district on the outskirts of the central industrial city of Homs. Another civilian died in Jassem, near Daraa, he added.

Two soldiers were killed and five others wounded in clashes with "armed terrorist gangs" in the protest hubs of Homs and Daraa, state news agency SANA reported.

The deadly confrontations occurred as troops and security forces "arrested dozens of wanted men and seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition in the Bab Amr neighborhood of Homs" and in Daraa.

Another human rights activist said shelling and automatic weapons fire had rocked Homs, Syria's third largest city.

The army also kept up its sweep of the flashpoint Mediterranean town of Banias, scouting for "protest organizers yet to be arrested," said Rami Abdul Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Between 600 and 700 people have been killed and at least 8,000 arrested since the start of the protest movement in mid-March, human rights groups say.

The Syrian authorities insist they are pursuing "armed terrorist gangs."

In Washington, the State Department denounced the crackdown as "barbaric."

Syrian authorities "continue to extend their violent actions against peaceful demonstrators," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"These repressive measures -- namely the ongoing campaign of arbitrary arrests, the denial of medical care to wounded persons, the inhumane conditions of detainees -- are barbaric measures that amount to collective punishment of innocent civilians."

Toner added that "we don't throw the word 'barbaric' around here very often" but that in this case, "the window is narrowing for the Syrian government to shift focus from its outright repression towards meeting the legitimate aspirations of its people."

Analysts said the Obama administration is still reluctant to call for an end to Assad's increasingly violent and repressive regime fearing that a revolution in Syria could bring chaos to a key part of the Middle East with significant repercussions for Lebanon, Iran and beyond.

Russia, a traditional Damascus ally, rejected calls for a special UN Security Council meeting on Syria to condemn the crackdown.

In the face of the persistent violence, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees suspended operations for 50,000 people in central and southern Syria, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for an end to "excessive force."

"I urge again President (Bashar) Assad to heed calls for reform and freedom and to desist from excessive force and mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators," the UN Secretary General told journalists in Geneva.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc will look at fresh sanctions this week against Assad's regime after already homing in on his inner circle.

"We started with 13 people who were directly involved" in cracking down on protests, she told European MPs pressing her to explain why Assad was spared.

"We'll look at it again this week," she added. "I assure you that my intention is to put the maximum political pressure that we can on Syria."

The government said it formed a commission to draft within two weeks a new law to govern general elections that meets "international criteria," SANA reported.

"Our goal is to draw up an electoral law that is similar to the best laws across the world," said Deputy Justice Minister Najm al-Ahmad.

Protesters are demanding free elections, the release of political prisoners, constitutional changes that would strip the ruling Baath party of its hegemony over Syria as well as new media and political parties laws.

Last month, under pressure from the international community, Assad lifted nearly five decades years of emergency rule but the heavy-handed crackdown on pro-reform protesters has continued unabated.