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Israel still searching for Golan returnees

May 16, 2011 11:01 A.M. (Updated: May 17, 2011 1:54 P.M.)
MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights (AFP) -- Police were on Monday searching the Golan for Druze from the Syrian side of the heights who breached the border into the occupied part of the plateau in a march Sunday that say two killed.

Hundreds of others were injured when Israeli troops opened fire on the marchers, who marked Palestine's Nakba Day by demanding their right to return to the occupied area, and see family and friends there after more than 30 years of separation.

The news that searches continued for those who had entered the area, which came under Israeli control during the war of 1967, came following reports in the Israeli press saying all had been forcibly returned by Israel's military.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said hundreds of police had been working through the night in the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams to seek out any protesters who had not returned to Syria.

"Throughout the night, police have been searching house-to-house for suspects who could still be in Majdal Shams," he told AFP, saying police had set up roadblocks throughout this Druze town, which has a population of 9,700 and lies close to the Syrian border.

He said police had stopped a taxi heading out of the town with a 34-year-old Syrian passenger, who was being questioned by police along with the driver, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem.

The border breach in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was one of the worst incidents of violence there since a 1974 truce accord.

Syria lashed out at Israel, warning it would bear full responsibility for its "criminal" actions, while Lebanon filed a complaint to the United Nations, urging it "to make the Jewish state halt its aggression and provocation," the official NNA news agency reported.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern over the violence and urged all sides to show the "utmost responsibility" to ward off new hostilities, a UN spokesman said.

In the Golan Heights, at least two people were shot dead, a local Druze doctor told AFP, while paramedics confirmed the same toll, saying one had been shot in the head, and the second in the chest. They also treated another 20 people for light to moderate injuries.

The army said "hundreds of Syrian rioters" had crossed onto the Israeli side, and troops had "fired selectively" towards them, while along the Lebanese border, soldiers had opened fire to warn off protesters trying to breach the fence. Thirteen soldiers were also injured in the two incidents, it said.

Since Friday, Palestinians and Arab Israelis staged a series of events in the run-up to Sunday's anniversary.

Meanwhile, a 22-year-old Arab Israeli truck driver was due in court after he ploughed into 12 cars and a bus in Tel Aviv on Sunday, killing one, in what police believe was a deliberate attack.

"He shouted 'Allahu Akbar' at the scene," said Rosenfeld. "He struck 12 cars then he hit a bus and his truck stopped. He got out of the truck and started attacking people," he said, saying bystanders had wrestled him to the ground.

More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict that accompanied the declaration of the state of Israel.
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