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Factbox: Golan Heights Explained

  • VOA News

FILE - Israeli soldiers take part in an exercise in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria.

The Golan Heights is a disputed Middle East plateau partly occupied by Israel, which captured some of the territory from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War.

Israel later annexed the part of the Golan Heights under its control, in a move not recognized internationally. Syria tried to reclaim the occupied area by attacking Israel in the 1973 Mideast War, but Israeli forces pushed back the Syrians and held on to it. Damascus has continued to demand a full Israeli withdrawal ever since.

Facts about the Golan Heights:

* Israeli governments held a series of public and secret negotiations with Syria to try to resolve the Golan Heights dispute from 1991 until 2011. Some Israeli negotiators offered at least a partial withdrawal from Israeli-occupied territory in return for peace with Syria, but no deals were reached.

* Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has toughened its position on the Golan Heights, declaring that Israel will never withdraw from the region and will keep the area it controls under Israeli sovereignty. Many Israelis oppose the idea of handing any of the territory to Damascus, because the Syrian civil war has driven Syrian government forces away from the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights, creating a vacuum filled by Islamist rebel groups such as al-Qaida.

* Israel marked 50 years of its control in the Golan Heights in June. Since 1967, it has built more than 30 settlements in the territory with a combined population of about 20,000 Israeli civilians who mostly are engaged in agriculture, wine-making, tourism and the preservation of nature and historic Jewish sites. The Israeli-controlled Golan Heights also is home to almost 20,000 indigenous ethnic Druze civilians, most of whom have remained loyal to Syria, and some of whom support President Bashar al-Assad.

* In recent years, fighting in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights occasionally has spilled over the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line, with gunfire and shells hitting Israeli-controlled territory and triggering Israeli return fire.

* The United Nations has hundreds of international observers stationed along the boundary between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. The cease-fire boundary consists of two lines that run mostly parallel to each other – an Alpha or A line separating Israeli and Syrian-controlled territory, and a Bravo or B line to the east. The area in between the Alpha and Bravo lines is an “Area of Separation” in which Syrian military forces are prohibited from entering. But this area largely has been occupied by rebels in recent years.

* The U.N. also created a small demilitarized zone west of the Alpha line, to keep Israeli military forces away from the abandoned Syrian town of Quneitra in the Area of Separation. This trapezoid-shaped zone, which is marked by an Alpha 1 line, consists mainly of Israeli farmland.

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