AFP has written a story from UNHQ/NY, based on an as-yet-unpublished UN report, that apparently says that Palestinian and Syrian demonstrators coming from Syria crossed an “unmarked minefield” in the Golan Heights on May 15 — the day that Israeli forces were surprised by the breach.
From the AFP story, published here, it is not clear if this referred to a field of Israeli, or Syrian, mines.
The unpublished UN report that AFP obtained is apparently linked to forthcoming UN Security Council consideration of periodic renewal, later this month, of the UN peacekeeping mandate on the Golan Heights, known as UNDOF [UN Disengagement Observer Forces]. This UNDOF report, published as a report of the UNSG, was due to be published on 10 June…
The AFP story, published yesterday [Wednesday June 15] says that “On May 15, about 4,000 mainly Palestinian demonstrators gathered on the Golan Heights on the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 creation. The UN report said about 300 moved toward the Israeli side ‘and despite the presence of the Syrian police, crossed the ceasefire line, through an unmarked minefield‘ and broke through an Israeli security fence. Israeli forces at first fired tear gas, then warning shots and then used ‘direct fire’, according to the UN, which said four dead and 41 wounded were reported. On June 5, Palestinians again gathered at two places on the Golan Heights ceasefire line. ‘Despite the presence of Syrian security forces, protesters attempted to breach the ceasefire line in both locations’, the UN said. Israeli forces again used tear gas and then live fire to deter the demonstrators. The UN said up to 23 people were reported killed and many more wounded … The UN report said ‘anti-government demonstrations in Syria spread to several villages’ on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line. UN observer teams have been denied access to six villages ‘ostensibly for reasons of safety and security of the military observers’, the report said”. This AFP story is published here.
This confirms the serious — and still unanswered — questions that have been raised in the past month:
(1) There is a question of proper notification, both to Syrian authorities and to UN peacekeeping missions working in the Golan.
(2) There is also an unanswered question about whether or not the minefields were properly marked [particularly any newly-laid minefields], in order to provide adequate warning to the demonstrators themselves.
(3) The breach of the Syrian and Israeli lines by Palestinian and Syrian protesters in demonstrations both on June 5 and also on May 15 has raised questions about how the UN peacekeeping forces who operate there are working.
The AFP story did seem to show UN confirmation that Syrian authorities didn’t do much but stand by and watch during May15 +June5 protests — though there was no real dispute on that point. The UN report apparently does not say that Syrian authorities actually sponsored, or even encouraged, the demonstrations. [It would be interesting to see anybody argue that the Syrian Army should actually have stopped the protesters from protesting — though the Lebanese Army did shoot at demonstrators on May 15.]
On Monday 6 June, a day after the latest demonstrations, the Israeli media published reports that newly-laid IDF minefields were among the preparations undertaken since the Nakba Day protests on May15 (when Palestinians + Syrians surprised the IDF by crossing the Golan on foot and entering Majdal Shams etc.) These newly-laid IDF minefields were reportedly planted expressly to prevent a second breach of the lines, in anticipation of the June 5 demonstrations marking the start of the June 1967 war (and the start of the Israeli occupation). An unclear number of people, said to be unarmed, were killed by unclear causes, apparently including minefield explosions.
UNDOF’s Croatian Battalion is located in the middle of the UN Zone that separates Israeli and Syrian lines near Majdal Shams.
The current UNDOF deployment map is published here.
The Israeli and Syrian lines are situated where agreed by a 1974 Agreement on the Disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces. It can’t be found on the UN website, but it is on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, here. It shows the UN zone in the middle of the demarcated area:
The story has not yet been developed.
It is not clear where the old minefields are, or whether they are all clearly marked. And it’s absolutely not clear where any newly-laid minefields are. But, all indications are that the newly-laid minefields were unmarked. (Except by two rows of barbed wire, according to an Israeli friend.)
One report, whose link I’ve unfortunately misplaced, did mention in passing that the IDF lines were overrun on May15 when Israeli troops stopped in their tracks, stunned to see the Palestinian demonstrators crossing minefields [marked, or unmarked?]
The first indications of injuries and deaths from mine explosions came from accounts given to the Israeli media by the IDF Northern Command on June 5, and then by IDF spokespersons themselves. The IDF aid that some protesters supposedly threw Molotov cocktails onto one minefield, apparently near Quneitra, thereby setting off one or more explosions. At least one IDF spokeswoman insisted, in an interview with one of my colleagues, that this peculiar tragedy involved minefields left over from the 1967 war.
UPDATE: However, the as-yet-unpublished UN report blame the fire not on Molotov cocktails supposedly thrown by demonstrators, but rather on the tear gas (or smoke?) canisters fired at the demonstrators by Israeli forces. Thanks to a tip from NYC-based journalist Alex B. Kane, who published his own account on Mondoweiss, there, we discovered a DPA [German Press Agency] story published by Haaretz on Tuesday evening, here reports that “A UN report on the Naksa day events said the IDF used tear gas, smoke grenades and live fire to prevent the demonstrators from crossing the ceasefire line. It stated: ‘Several anti-tank mines exploded due to a brush fire apparently started by tear gas or smoke grenade canisters near UNDOF facilities at Charlie Gate [near Quneitra?], resulting in casualties among protesters’. The brush fire was put out by Syrian and Israeli fire squads, and UNDOF, the report read”.
Another link in Alex Kane’s report for Mondoweiss, a Haaretz report published on June 6, here, “[IDF] Soldiers fired ‘with precision’ at the bottom half of the bodies of the protesters, the army said”. Then, an IDF spokeswoman said that this was further proof that the death toll figures had been exaggerated: We shot them in the feet, she said, and then the wounded were carried away on stretchers, pretending that they were dead…
So, to satisfy the IDF standards of proof that they were only “shot in the feet”, those injured should have walked back across the lines…?