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Israel, U.S.: Syrian-Golan Heights protests 'provocation'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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IDF: No demonstrators will enter Israel
  • NEW: Israel, United States call the fatal protests a provocation
  • NEW: Israel PM: Sunday protests were an effort to distract from harsh Syrian crackdown
  • Israeli officials say 10 protesters died when fire bombs they threw set off landmines
  • The protests came on the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel and the United States on Monday blamed Syria for violent protests on the country's border with the occupied Golan Heights.

The demonstrations were a provocation designed to draw international attention away from harsh reprisals against protesters in Hama and other Syrian cities, the countries said.

Israeli officials said 10 people died Sunday when fire bombs thrown by protesters detonated landmines, said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman.

Syrian state media reported 23 protesters were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on demonstrators.

Deadly border clashes in Golan Heights
  • Golan Heights
  • Syria
  • Israel

"There is an attempt here to incite the international community and to draw attention away from the harsh events" in Hama, Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

More than 1,000 people have died since the Syrian government began a crackdown on demonstrators seeking government reforms, according to the United Nations. Human rights groups say 80 people died when security forces sprayed a crowd of protesters in Hama on Friday.

In Sunday's demonstrations, Israeli troops used tear gas and live ammunition on members of the demonstrators only "after using up all other means," Netanyahu said. The soldiers followed international law, he said.

"We stand by our rights to defend our borders, our cities and our citizens," he said. "We will do it with restraint and great responsibility."

The United States defended Israel's response, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

"As we did previously, we condemn what appears to be an effort by the Syrian government to incite events and draw attention away from its own internal issues," Toner said. "And it's clear that such behavior will not distract international attention on Syria's, Syrian government's condemnable behavior on its own citizens."

The protests came on the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War, when Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria. The Israel Defense Forces said that Israeli troops used tear gas and live ammunition on members of an "angered mob."

As many as 500 people took part in the demonstration, holding mid-day prayers on the Syrian side of the border, then crouching down behind ramparts that Israel constructed in response to similar demonstrations three weeks ago. The number later dropped to about 50, with protesters waving Palestinian and Syrian flags.

CNN's Kevin Flower contributed to this report.