ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - The White House accused the Syrian government on Monday of inciting deadly border clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators, saying Damascus was trying to distract attention from its own violent crackdown on protests.
White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed regret for the loss of life in confrontations on Israel’s frontiers with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on Sunday but said the Jewish state “has the right to prevent unauthorized crossing at its borders.”
“We urge maximum restraint on all sides,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama flew to Tennessee.
Israeli troops opened fire at three separate border locations to prevent crowds of demonstrators from crossing, killing at least 13 people.
Syrian media reports said Israeli gunfire killed two people after dozens of Palestinians infiltrated the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria, along a front line that has been largely tranquil for decades.
The White House put the onus on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the violence that broke out on the Israeli-Syrian border.
Carney said the administration was “strongly opposed to the Syrian government’s involvement in inciting yesterday’s protests in the Golan Heights.”
“Such behavior is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government’s ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country,” he said.
“It seems apparent to us that this is an effort to distract attention from the legitimate expressions of protest by the Syrian people, and from the harsh crackdown that the Syrian government has perpetrated against its own people,” he added.
The Obama administration has tightened sanctions on senior Syrian officials to try to pressure Damascus to halt its crackdown on pro-democracy protests, but international human rights groups have criticized Washington for not taking stronger action.
Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Eric Beech