What is the importance of the Golan Heights?

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UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — US President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

This major transformation, like Trump’s December 2017 decision, recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moves the US embassy to the city, which has pleased Israel, but has angered Palestinians and many political leaders and religious leaders in the Arab world.

The Golan Declaration is likely to complicate the long-awaited Trump plan to resolve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

The following is a quick guide to the 1,200-km highlands that also overlook Lebanon and bordering Jordan.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the reason for the dispute over the region

The Golan Heights were part of Syria until 1967 when Israel occupied most of the area in the Six-Day War and then annexed it in 1981. The annexation of the Golan was not recognized internationally and Syria demanded its restoration.

Syria tried to recover heights in the 1973 war. Israel and Syria signed a truce agreement in 1974 and since then the Golan has been relatively calm.

In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest talks on a possible return of the Golan Heights and the signing of a peace agreement. But the negotiations collapsed and the talks that followed failed.

Why does Israel want the Golan?

Security. Israel says the civil war in Syria shows the need to keep the Golan as a buffer zone between Israeli towns and the troubles in its neighbor.

The Israeli government says it also fears that Iran, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is seeking a permanent presence on the Syrian side of the border to launch attacks on Israel.

The two sides are keen on water resources and fertile soil in the Golan Heights.

Syria maintains that the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan remains occupied territory and demands its return.

Who lives there?

More than 40,000 people live in the Israeli-occupied Golan, with more than half of them Druze.

The Druze are an Arab minority whose ideology derives from one of the sectarian branches of Islam and many of its members are loyal to the Syrian regime.

After the Golan was annexed, Israel granted the Druze the option of citizenship, but the majority refused and still hold Syrian citizenship. There are also some 20,000 Israeli settlers, many of whom work in agriculture and tourism.

Who controls the Syrian side of the Golan?

Before the outbreak of the war in Syria in 2011 there was tension between the Israeli and Syrian forces.

But in 2014, Islamist fighters seeking to overthrow Assad, the province of Kenitra, raided the Syrian side. The fighters forced Syrian forces to withdraw and also forced UN troops in the area to withdraw from some of their positions.

The area remained under the control of opposition fighters until the summer of 2018 when Syrian troops returned to the city of Quneitra and the surrounding area, most of which were destroyed after a campaign backed by Russia and an agreement that allowed the fighters to withdraw.

What is the current military situation?

Syrian forces have now regained control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, reopened in October 2018, while UN forces are still renovating their positions, which they had to withdraw several years ago.

Although Israel has hinted that it will not impede the return of the Syrian army to Quneitra, it has repeatedly expressed concern that Assad may not abide by the truce or allow his allies from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group to deploy there.

What separates the two sides in the Golan?

UNDOF is based in camps and observation points in the Golan, supported by military observers of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).

There is a “separation zone,” usually called the demilitarized zone between the Israeli and Syrian armies, with an area of ​​400 square kilometers, and the forces of the two sides are not allowed to enter under the cease-fire agreement.

Under the disengagement agreement signed on May 31, 1974, the Alpha line was developed west of the separation zone and the Israeli forces must remain behind it, and the Bravo line to the east, which the Syrian forces must remain behind.

An area stretching 25 kilometers behind the “separation zone” on both sides is subject to restrictions on the number of troops and how much and how much weapons the two sides can have.

A single crossing between the Israeli and Syrian sides was used until the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011 was limited to the United Nations forces and a limited number of Druze civilians in addition to the transfer of agricultural products.

This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for VOP from different countries around the world – edited and published by VOP staff in our newsroom.

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