Riots broke out as migrants threw stones and stun grenades at Polish soldiers guarding the border, which the country says were provided by Belarus as part of its attack on Europe.
Videos emerged showing Belarusian soldiers apparently flinging screaming migrants on the razor-wire fence and cutting through the barriers at night.
Amid a growing humanitarian crisis, the first Syrian migrant was buried by a local Muslim community.
Minsk has been accused of flying in migrants from mostly the Middle East and setting them on the border, but refuses to take responsibility.
An estimated 3,500 migrants were walked by Belarusian guards from a makeshift camp up to the closed Kuznica-Bruzgi checkpoint yesterday to face hundreds of Polish police and soldiers on the other side.
Poland has denied them entry, arguing that they are being used as “weapons” by Belarus and Russia to punish the European Union for imposing sanctions on Minsk.
The standoff flared into open conflict this morning as “very aggressive” migrants “equipped with stun grenades by the Belarusian services” and stones launched an “attack”, according to Poland’s defence ministry.
Polish troops responded with water cannon and gas through the sturdy fence at the crossing. A policeman was taken to hospital with a suspected skull fracture.
International leaders have been drawn into what is seen as a proxy “hybrid” attack on the European Union through the 850-mile borders with Belarus of its eastern-most members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, accused Polish border forces of “absolutely unacceptable” actions. He also said that the use of “tear gas and water cannon, as well as shots over the heads of migrants in the direction of Belarus” are in violation of “all conceivable norms of international humanitarian law”.
The unrest on the border could suck Russia deeper into the crisis. Russia and Belarus have been allied as a Union State since 1999 and Belarus is also a member of the CSTO, a Moscow-led collective security organisation that consists of former Soviet states. President Putin and President Lukashenko of Belarus today held talks on “the protection of the Union State borders”, Belarusian state media said.
President Macron of France contacted Putin yesterday to say that France would defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine, amid worries of an imminent invasion. Moscow has stationed “large and unusual concentrations of Russian forces” on Ukraine’s border, Nato warned.
Lukashenko told state news agency Belta today that he was expecting a second call with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, following a conversation yesterday, where he said he laid out “proposals to resolve the situation” while Brussels agreed to new EU sanctions against Belarus.
Amid the geopolitical brinkmanship, an estimated 4,000 migrants trapped in the freezing border forest are struggling to survive on limited food and water.
A 15-minute drive from the border, the first funeral of a young Syrian who died on the Polish-Belarusian border took place last night at a historic mosque in the village of Bohoniki, known for its ancient Muslim Tatar community.
Ahmed al-Hasan, a 19-year-old from Homs, was found dead in a river and is believed to have drowned. His visa to Minsk was issued for between October 10 and 14, people who found his passport told The Times.
“We decided to give him a dignified funeral because he deserved it,” Maciej Szczesnowicz, the leader of the Muslim community in Bohoniki, said. “The young boy was without his family, we feel sorry for all of them.”
As the death toll of the crisis reached eight in Poland, Szczesnowicz said that the Muslim community had set aside a patch in its remote burial grounds. “We are prepared for larger numbers.”
Bohoniki is the historic home of a Lipka Tatar minority who lived in the borderlands since the 14th century and received land for serving in the Polish army. They are one of Europe’s oldest continuously existing Muslim communities.
Some of the bodies of those who died in Poland have been handed over to their families, while others are still in post-mortem examination rooms, according to Polish media.
While the Belarusian authorities have allowed foreign media to report from the ground, Poland has been criticised for barring journalists and activists from its two-mile exclusion zone.
Under growing pressure, and as the state of emergency announced for a total of 90 days expires at the end of this month, the government is preparing new measures to allow journalists into the area with special permission.
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