Israelis killed 23 protestors in the Syrian Golan

Israel shoots protesters at Syria border

Both Syrians and Palestinians protesting against Israel came under attack yesterday near the border with Israel leaving several killed and scores wounded, according to Syrian state media.

Minister of Health Dr. Wael al-Halqi told SANA 23 were killed and more than 600 injured from bullets and tear gas fired by Israeli forces near Quneitra and Madjal Shams in the occupied Golan on the 44th anniversary of Naksa (setback), when Israel occupied the Syrian Golan, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Three weeks ago Israeli soldiers shot dead 13 Palestinian protesters who tried to breach Israel’s frontier with Lebanon and Syria during protests marking what Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe) of Israel’s founding in 1948.

According to SANA, the protesters were targeted by snipers and “phosphorus bombs”.

But Israel accused Syria of instigating the border clashes to distract Syrians from the crackdown on domestic opposition forces while the opposition Reform Party of Syria also alleged that the Syrian government paid impoverished farmers thousands of dollars to travel to the protests.

Strike in Hama continues, more deaths reported in Idleb

Residents of Hama told Agence France-Presse yesterday that more than 100,000 people staged protests in the city during a three-day strike that began on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP 28 people were killed in the town of Jisr as-Shugur yesterday.

Six members of the security forces are included in the rights group’s estimate of 38 deaths over Saturday and Sunday.

Damascus insists that the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators and that it needs time to implement reforms.

Since the protests started in mid-March, Damascus has applied both political and economic reforms. However, many political activists and opposition figures criticise the reform process for being “too slow” compared to the rapid escalation of the tension on the ground.

President Bashar al-Assad passed an executive order on Sunday which Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Radwan al-Habib said should give full-time employment to about 100,000 temporary government employees, SANA reported.

Syria also freed more than 450 political prisoners since Tuesday as part of a general amnesty announced by Assad, Rahman told AFP on Sunday. Most of the released are Islamists or Kurds, he added.

Syrian Prime Minister Adel Safar, meanwhile, ordered the creation of a committee tasked with drafting a law on political parties, SANA reported.

Today, Al-Watan reported a new political parties law will be approved in less than one month, which may pave the way for greater political pluralism in the future.

The current constitution stipulates that the ruling Baath party is "the leader of state and society" and political pluralism has been at the forefront of demands by pro-reform dissidents.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, meanwhile, made a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates where he met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

"The demands of reform and the need for stability can go hand in hand as they can be reconciled," the official Abu Dhabi WAM news agency reported Zayed al-Nahayan as saying.

Kurdish leaders to meet Syrian president

President Assad has agreed to meet Kurdish political leaders from Iraq and Turkey including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Kurdistan Workers Party chief Abdallah Ogalan and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani among others, to discuss Syrian unrest and the Kurdish national project, Al-Watan reported.

Syrian Kurds in the north-east apparently received messages from the Iraqi president thanking them for not taking part in protests against the Assad government.

A Kurdish source quoted in Al-Watan decried the Turkish “scorched earth” policy toward Kurds in Turkey.

Relations between Syria and Turkey appear publicly to be the most strained since 1998, when Turkey threatened Syria with invasion, in part for its harbouring of Ogalan.

Pressure mount over Syria’s alleged nuclear ambitions

The US and its allies are seeking to get a UN resolution passed against Syria at a week-long meeting of the UN’s nuclear watchdog over its alleged illicit nuclear activity, Agence France-Presse reports.

The meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is likely to focus on suspected nuclear programs in both Iran and Syria, despite other major events like the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

The IAEA has been investigating allegations that a site in eastern Syria bombed by Israel in 2007 was a secret nuclear facility.

Syria has consistently denied the site was a nuclear facility and no evidence of allegations of Syrian nuclear weapons ambitions have yet been brought to light.

But IAEA chief Yukiya Amano stated recently and for the first time his conviction that the site was "very likely" to have been an undeclared covert nuclear reactor.

The US seized the opportunity, saying Syria was “non-compliant” and referring it to the UN Security Council.

Syria Today (Syria)