News / Middle East

Syrian Uprising Divides Syrians in Golan Heights

Scott Bobb

The confrontation is growing bloodier in Syria between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and supporters of a nine-month uprising against his government. The strife is also causing divisions among Syrians in the Golan Heights, which has been under Israeli control since the 1967 war.

Majdal Shams is the main town of the occupied Golan Heights. Some residents are debating the situation in Syria, their home country.

Shop owner Hussein Jamil says terrorists are behind the nine-month-old uprising and they will not succeed. “All the people of the Golan Heights are of the same opinion. We are supporting President Assad and we are thinking that what is going on is, it's a conspiracy," he said.

Most of the 10,000 Syrians living in this area are Druze who traditionally have supported the 41-year-old regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his late father, Hafez al-Assad.

But the rift in Syrian society is now causing differences here. Jamil's neighbor, Husam Ayyeb. “I believe that as president, [Assad] should not be in power more than five or ten years. The state does not belong to him so he cannot rule for 50, 40 years. There are people who are better qualified than him and can govern better," he said.

Ninety-two year-old Sheikh Hassan Bashir says all that Syrians want is a peaceful resolution to the confrontation. “We are in too much pain. This is not in our interest or the interest of the Jews, or America, or France, or Britain, not even Russia, nobody. This is very damaging," he said.

The uprising has left an estimated 4,500 people dead and is fueling tensions in the region. Turkey, Syria's northern neighbor, has called for a buffer zone to protect dissidents from pro-Assad forces.

Israel, this past week, held military exercises in the Golan. Syria also held exercises, firing rockets into its eastern desert.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called it a display of Syrian bravado. “It is an event that takes place more out of fear and distress than from confidence. The Assad family is losing its grip. Bashar al-Assad's fate is sealed. He will fall," he said.

The Arab League has suspended Syria and is imposing sanctions.

Pharmacist Gandi Kahluni, a fervent Assad supporter, is angry at the Arab response. “The (Arab) governments are collaborators but the Arab people are still alive. At the end of the day, the Arab truth will win against those oppressors, those cowards," he said.

Human rights activist Salman Fakhraldeen says Syrians now are discussing politics and human rights which they were afraid to do before. But he acknowledges the situation is unsettling the community. "The main problem in this small place, occupied Golan, is to keep the peaceful life of the community. The politics can be changed, but not the community," he said.

Syrians living in occupied Golan are in a delicate position. Their country is still officially at war with Israel. As a result, the conflict in Syria heightens their uncertainties and adds to their distress.

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