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Tense Times At Syrian Border

There is a recording that greets tourists visiting a Golan Heights lookout toward  Syria that boasts the border they are gazing over is the quietest Israel has ever known with
08 Sep 2014 07:44
Tense Times At Syrian Border
An emotional Saroj Naidu (middle) could hold back her tears as she remembers her daughter Women Constable Shivangi Sheetal Naidu during Police Remembrance Day at Police Special Response Unit on September 29, 2020. Photo: Ronald Kumar.

There is a recording that greets tourists visiting a Golan Heights lookout toward  Syria that boasts the border they are gazing over is the quietest Israel has ever known with any of its neighbours. Perhaps it’s time for an update.

Islamist fighters now control much of the frontier on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, according to Israel’s military. There has been heavy fighting between the rebels and Syrian government forces in the past week.

The Islamists come from the Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group linked to al-Qaeda. They still hold more than 40 United Nations peacekeepers seized last week.

Israel’s military is keeping an especially close watch on the Golan Heights, monitoring the moves made by the Nusra Front while also tracking the more extreme group, Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS).

An Israeli officer told the newspaper Haaretz that there is no sign of ISIS near the Golan Heights. “But they might show up later on,” he said.

The Nusra Front took control of the Quneitre crossing last week, used as a transit point for United Nations peacekeepers and some goods, such as apples, to market in Syria. Syrian government forces have launched attacks to push the rebels from their positions.

Several tank shells and mortar rounds from Syria have landed in the Israeli Golan Heights in the past two weeks. An Israeli soldier was wounded last week in one incident. The Israel Defence Forces has retaliated by striking several Syrian military positions.

The escalation has Israeli residents of the Golan on edge.

“Yes, we’re worried but living in this part of the world you’re walking on a tinder box,” Mark Reitkopp told me as we stood on a hill overlooking Syria. “But hopefully, things will try to straighten themselves out.”

Reitkopp, who lives in the settlement of El Rom, said he can often hear the fighting in Syria, about a kilometre away from his home. The violence has forced his kibbutz to suspend the apple harvest on land adjacent to the Syrian frontier.

The flare-up in fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights came just as Israel agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas, ending a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s military has redeployed tanks and troops from it southern border with Gaza to the Golan. Convoys of military transports carrying tanks, armoured personnel carriers snaked their way up the hills into the area earlier this week.

“We have already taken steps,” to prepare for the threat posed by the Nusra Front, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We are prepared for various possibilities. But this bears out what I have been saying: we live in a tough Middle East, in a tough area, and compared with other countries, we are taking care of our security and economy better than everyone.”

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