- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thousands of Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli security forces on three hostile borders Sunday in an unprecedented wave of protests marking an annual ritual against the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.

Israeli soldiers opened fire, leaving at least 15 dead and many more injured, as rioting Palestinians poured across the borders with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Israeli officials said 13 troops were wounded and blamed Syria and Iran for orchestrating the clashes.

The protests mark the first time that the demonstrations, which have swept the Arab world this year, have been directed at Israel.

The riots erupted as U.S. efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks appeared close to collapse with the sudden resignation Friday of U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

A Palestinian protester adds a tire to a burning barricade blocking the road during clashes with Israeli troops in the Shuafat refugee camp, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. At least 15 protesters were killed and many were wounded. Thirteen Israeli troops were injured.
A Palestinian protester adds a tire to a burning barricade blocking the ... more >

The resignation leaves already stalled U.S. peace efforts in tatters, a circumstance that President Obama is expected to address this week in a major speech on the Middle East.

“We hope calm and quiet will quickly return, but nobody should be mistaken. We are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in brief remarks broadcast live on Israeli TV stations.

Mr. Netanyahu said he ordered the military to act with “maximum restraint” but vowed a tough response to any further incursions. The Israeli leader is due in Washington for talks with Mr. Obama this week.

Despite the upcoming visit, observers said recent events in the region — the fall of several Arab autocracies and a deal between the Palestinian factions Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza — have effectively paralyzed U.S. efforts.

“Everything is on hold right now because so many variables are unreadable,” Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine told The Washington Times.

“What is the relationship between the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the broader Arab Spring? It’s still unclear. … What will Egypt’s foreign policy be?

“No one knows what the Palestinian agreement [between Fatah and Hamas] means.

“It’s also unclear what the Israelis want. Do they favor a two-states solution [with a sovereign Palestine alongside Israel] or not? … The Israeli Cabinet is divided just as the Palestinians are.”

Mr. Ibish said Mr. Obama deserved credit for his efforts but said it was difficult to see how there could be progress now.

The unprecedented breakthrough by Palestinian demonstrators on the Syrian border in the disputed Golan Heights area — tightly controlled by the Syrian military — brought allegations that Damascus had encouraged the protests as a way of distracting attention from the two-month-long uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

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