Ayalon: Assad using anti-Israel protesters as 'cannon fodder'

President Bashar Assad

President Bashar Assad

Israeli officials have said that the Syrian protesters who approached the border with Israel yesterday leading to gunfire were encouraged to do so by President Bashar Assad.

Danny Ayalon, the Deputy Foreign Minister, wrote on his Facebook page that President Assad was "using Palestinians in Syria as cannon fodder".

According to Syrian reports at least 20 protesters were killed during the fighting with Israeli troops, although the number has not been independently confirmed.

Some 35 Syrians were said to have been killed in clashes between Syrian government forces and demonstrators in the north of the country over the weekend. More than 1,200 Syrian citizens are believed to have been killed in nearly three months of the regime's bloody crackdowns.

Although the protesters vowed to remain at the border, today the Syrian authorities set up checkpoints preventing them from doing so. It is unclear why they chose to intervene today but not on Sunday.

Mr Ayalon said the Syrian leader had encouraged the Palestinians to go to the border "to divert attention from the carnage that he is wreaking on his people."

"Responsibility for everything that takes place on the Golan border is Assad's and the Syrian government's."

Similar comments were made by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who said President Assad's regime was behind yesterday's clashes and the deadly clashes three weeks ago on the border.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said Israel would file a complaint to the UN over "the Syrian regime's cynical manipulation of its own citizens in order to generate violent incidents on the border."

The Board of Deputies of British Jews criticised "the cynical attempt by the Syrian Government to draw attention away from its brutal quelling of internal dissentby sending civilians into one of the most militarily sensitive and dangerous borders in the world".

"Israel is perfectly entitled to defend itself against such direct challenges to its sovereignty," said the Board in a statement. "But no injuries or loss of life would have occurred without the endorsement and encouragement of the Syrian regime."

Last updated: 3:18pm, June 6 2011