The Middle East Channel

Syria in splinters

DAMASCUS, Syria — The calm that has reigned along the Syria-Israel border for 37 years was broken on Sunday, May 15, when hundreds of Palestinians and Syrians stormed across the fence separating the two countries in the Golan Heights and the Israeli military shot four dead. While the clashes were undoubtedly inspired by Palestinians keen ...

NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images
NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images

DAMASCUS, Syria — The calm that has reigned along the Syria-Israel border for 37 years was broken on Sunday, May 15, when hundreds of Palestinians and Syrians stormed across the fence separating the two countries in the Golan Heights and the Israeli military shot four dead. While the clashes were undoubtedly inspired by Palestinians keen to commemorate the nakba, or "catastrophe," of Israel’s founding, it may also mark a dirtier phase in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s quest to gain the upper hand over a persistent domestic opposition at home.

It’s hard to imagine the demonstrations could have taken place without Assad’s connivance. No such protests have been held in past years at the Golan border. Access to the region is tightly controlled, and crowds are not allowed to gather without permission from the government. In Damascus, analysts and dissidents have interpreted the event as a direct message from the Assad regime to Israel, the United States, and its internal rivals: Either we remain in power, or there will be chaos.

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