AL-QUNEITRA, Syria — Ahmad al-Saadi, a hospitalised young Palestinian refugee, proudly shows off his left knee which he says was pierced by an Israeli army bullet on the Jewish state's anniversary.
"I felt I was just steps away from returning to Palestine," said the refugee, who along with other demonstrators, crossed into the Israeli-annexed Golan from Syria during a protest march on Sunday on the anniversary of Israel's creation.
"I was the first person hit," said the 21-year-old, resting on a hospital bed in the Syrian village of Al-Quneitra, 70 kilometres (44 miles) from Damascus, at the edge of the Golan Heights which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Three demonstrators were killed and dozens wounded on Sunday as Israeli troops fired at mostly Palestinian refugees who crossed a ceasefire line to mark the Nakba, or "catastrophe," of Israel's establishment in 1948.
The Israeli army said it opened fire in response to rocks thrown at its troops and a breach of the ceasefire line, which had been calm for decades.
An AFP correspondent at Al-Quneitra hospital, accompanied by a regime minder, interviewed several of the wounded, including Saadi, who recalled how his friend had replaced an Israeli flag with a Palestinian one before being killed.
"We yelled in a single voice: 'We are marching to Jerusalem' and 'We will be martyrs by the millions,'" he said.
Spurred on by a rallying call on Facebook to take part in a "third Palestinian intifada (uprising)," Palestinian refugees insist their action was not linked to any political faction.
Washington, like Israel, accused Syria of having stoked the Golan protests "to distract attention" from its crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators that has drawn heavy fire from the international community.
"This movement was launched spontaneously by Palestinians," according to Abdul Hadi Hussein, an 18-year-old who was shot in the right leg.
"We went down from the valley aware of the danger," Hussein said, referring to the Israeli soldiers and a minefield on the ceasefire line. "I wanted to die a martyr."
In the same hospital room, Ahmad Fawzi Makhluf, 17, said he scored a personal victory by hitting an Israeli soldier on the nose with a stone.
"My friends and I burst out laughing before scramming, but my trousers got caught in the barbed wire and I was hit by a bullet," he said. "The fact that we crossed the security barrier fills us with pride."
In the intensive care unit, Ahmad Herbawi was being treated for breathing problems caused by tear-gas inhalation. "Even if I am happy for my son's feat, I feel so sorry to see him in this state," said his mother.
In nearby Hadar, many Syrians complained of the destabilising effect in what had been a calm region.
"We share their cause because our land is also occupied," said a local merchant on condition of anonymity. "We were surprised by their presence and we warned them, but they did not listen."
Two Palestinian protesters among dozens who infiltrated the Jewish state from Syria during the Golan rally were deported on Tuesday, according to an Israeli military spokeswoman.
Israeli army gunfire killed four people.
More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the Arab-Israeli conflict that accompanied the Jewish state's foundation.
Figures of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees show there are one million refugees in the Gaza Strip, 750,000 in the West Bank, two million in Jordan, 475,000 in Syria and 400,000 in Lebanon.
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