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World - Middle East

Emotions run high on issue of Golan Heights

homage
This is a pilgrimage point for Israelis to pay homage to soldiers killed during a battle in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war  

December 16, 1999
Web posted at: 11:32 p.m. EST (0432 GMT)


In this story:

Clear view afforded of Damascus

Future of listening posts a key issue

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel

ON THE ISRAEL-SYRIA BORDER -- The Golan Heights are not only an area of enormous strategic importance. For both Israel and Syria, the Golan is a place of deep emotion.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. Syria has wanted the land back ever since.

Many Israelis travel to the Golan to pay homage to soldiers killed there in another conflict, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. That sacrifice is on the mind of many Israelis as peace talks pick up steam, with the future of the Golan at the center of the Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Clear view afforded of Damascus

Giving up the Golan will not be easy for Israel.

The plateau towers over the Sea of Galilee and northern Israel. The Golan gives the Israeli army a clear view of the Syrian capital of Damascus, just 40 miles (65 km) to the northeast.

image
Israel says any agreement must allow it to continue to receive information from listening posts on the Golan Heights  

Syria considers the Golan and the villages it lost not just as territory. To Syria, the Golan is a symbol of nationhood.

Future of listening posts a key issue

Israel has established elaborate listening posts on the Golan to provide early warning in the event of attack. The future of those outposts will be crucial to any lasting peace agreement.

The peace process has long been recognized -- especially in the Middle East -- as a risky undertaking. And the current talks are no exception.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has come under harsh criticism since agreeing to resume talks with Syria.

But Barak has said the time has come for his country to make peace, so there will be no more battlefields -- or pilgrimages to them.

With both nations apparently willing to reach agreement, the riskiest move might be doing nothing at all.



RELATED STORIES:
Expectations high on day of Syrian, Israeli talks
December 14, 1999
Barak wins Knesset approval for Israeli-Syrian peace talks
December 13, 1999
Syria says accord with Israel may be 'few months' away
December 12, 1999
Albright 'much more hopeful' about Israel-Syria peace process
December 7, 1999
Middle East peace talks move too slowly, U.S. official warns
December 6, 1999
U.S. peace envoy arrives in Mideast to lay groundwork for Albright visit
December 5, 1999
Clinton, Barak meet as Mideast peace process stalls
November 17, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Virtual Jerusalem
Israel's Institutions of Government (in Hebrew)
Ministry of Information Syrian Arab Republic
Syrian Arab news agency
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
The Middle East Network Information Center
Palestinian National Authority
CIA World Factbook: Israel
CIA World Factbook: West Bank
CIA World Factbook: Gaza Strip
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