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In a statement, the military said that “thousands of Syrian civilians” breached the border.

“IDF forces opened fire in order to prevent the violent rioters from illegally infiltrating Israeli territory, a number of rioters have infiltrated and are violently rioting in the village. From initial reports there are dozens of injured that are receiving medical care in a nearby hospital,” the statement said.

Israeli officials confirmed two of those who crossed the Syrian border were dead on the Israeli side, and as many as four were reported dead in Syrian territory.

The protesters were believed to be Palestinians who live in refugee camps in Syria. Israel‘s Channel 2 TV interviewed one of those who crossed, who identified himself as a resident of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria. “I am Palestinian from Nazareth,” a town in northern Israel, the man told the station.

Channel 2 showed footage, taken by a resident of the Golan border village of Majdal Shams, of what it said was a pro-Palestinian protest walking through the streets of the town. At late afternoon, Israeli military officials said about 100 people had been caught and were being sent back to Syria. It was not known how many remained on the loose.

“The residents are in shock; they had no idea this was going to happen,” Dolan Abu Salah, mayor of Majdal Shams, told Channel 10 TV. He said the town’s residents, members of the Druse Arab sect, were neutral and did not want to get involved.

About 25 miles to the west, Israeli troops clashed with a large crowd of Lebanese demonstrators who approached the border. The military said it opened fire when protesters tried to damage the border fence. Lebanese security officials reported four dead.

It was the most serious violence along the volatile border since Israel fought Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas during a monthlong war five years ago.

The shooting erupted at the tense border village of Maroun el-Rass, which saw some of the fiercest fighting in 2006. Thousands of Palestinian refugees had traveled to the village in buses adorned with posters that read, “We are returning.” Many came from the 12 crowded refugee camps in Lebanon where some 400,000 Palestinian refugees live.

Israel may be 63 years old today, but its days are numbered,” said Abbas Jomaa, 50, who was carrying his 4-year-old son on his shoulders and holding a Palestinian flag. “Sooner or later we will return.”

Hundreds of Lebanese soldiers, U.N. peacekeepers and riot police deployed heavily in the area, taking up positions along the electric border fence and patrolling the area in military vehicles. Young Hezbollah supporters wearing yellow hats and carrying walkie-talkies organized the entry to the village and handed out Palestinian flags.

In other violence, Palestinian medics also said two people were killed and 40 others were wounded in a demonstration in the Gaza Strip near the heavily fortified border with Israel. Demonstrations also were reported in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Inside Israel, police were on high alert for disturbances among the country’s large Arab minority. In a reflection of the jitters, a deadly traffic incident involving an Arab truck driver in Tel Aviv set off fears that an attack had been carried out.

The truck plowed through a crowded street, crashing into a bus, several cars and pedestrians, killing one and injuring 16 others. Police said the 22-year-old driver claimed it was an accident, but police said they still were investigating.

“Based on the devastation and debris, we’re still examining if it was carried out deliberately,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

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