Quneitra: the silent city
QUNEITRA, Syria -- The silent, uninhabited city of Quneitra stands ruined and desolate in a de-militarised zone of the Golan Heights.
Its piles of rubble and flattened homes have remained untouched for 27 years under Syrian administration and the monitor of a United Nations disengagement force.
The occupied part of the Golan, currently under Israeli control, is within clear view.
Quneitra is held up by Syria as an indictment of Israel's military actions when Israeli forces partially withdrew from the area under a UN accord in 1974.
Some six months after the systematic destruction of Quneitra, Israel was held responsible by the U.N. and was accused of violating the Geneva convention.
On his arrival in Syria, Pope John Paul II condemned the acquisition of the territory by force, insisting that international rules such as UN resolutions and Geneva conventions be respected.
Syria claims that Israel was never punished for occupying the Golan or for levelling the city. The authorities hope the appearance of the Pope in Quneitra will provide political gain on the Syrian behalf.
Mohammed Khneifes Ali, spokesman for Quneitra province, said that "for Syria, the hope (is) that he with his spiritual authority will help to bring peace and the implementation of international legitimacy resolutions."
The Pope's pilgrimage follows the biblical footsteps of St. Paul through one of the most enduring obstacles to Middle-East peacemaking: the Golan Heights.
Prior to Israel's occupation of the Golan, Quneitra was home to around 20,000 Christians. The Pope's prayer for peace in a Greek Orthodox church takes place in a part of the Holy Land which remains in a technical state of war.
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