Israel is accusing Syria of inflating casualty figures from Sunday's border skirmish after hundreds of Palestinians stormed the Israeli border with Syria to commemorate the 1967 Six Day War with Israel.
Israeli soldiers shouted warnings in Arabic asking the protesters to refrain from crossing the Israeli-Syrian border in two locations, but their calls were ignored. Rioters threw gasoline bombs, which started a fire and set off four land mines on the Syrian side of the border, causing injuries.
On Sunday evening, approximately 100 protesters threw rocks at Israeli officers. Israeli police responded with tear gas to disperse the crowd, resulting in the arrest of several demonstrators. Syria claimed that a total of 23 activists were killed and 350 wounded. All casualties were on the Syrian side of the border.
Israeli officials say those figures are exaggerated to deflect attention from Syria's brutal repression of anti-government protests targeting the Assad regime. Reports indicate 35 people were killed by government forces during the weekend.
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) investigation into the clashes found that troops limited their use of sniper fire, and a number of the protesters were killed when they set off an anti-tank minefield after throwing Molotov cocktails. The IDF expressed skepticism at the Syrian death toll figure, and accused the Syrian government of creating a deliberate provocation to divert world attention away from its repression at home.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the IDF acted to minimize casualties and Israel "will act according to our right to protect our border."
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Sunday calling for restraint, saying Sunday's violence at the border was troubling. "Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself," it added.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed "deep concern" over the clashes in a statement Monday and condemned "the use of violence and all actions intended to provoke violence."
The Reform Syria opposition website said the protesters were poor farmers who were paid $1,000 by the Syrian regime to come to the border, and that Syria promised $10,000 to the families of anyone killed.
Hizballah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said the protests "show the efforts of the US administration to hijack the Arab revolutions," during a speech he delivered on Monday praising Imam Sayed Ali Khamenei. Nasrallah related the Imam's predictions that the U.S. is nearing collapse and Israel's demise is very soon.
Hamas also praised the protesters, and called on them to continue their efforts.