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13 Jun, 2008 00:48

Israel and Syria to resume talks over Golan Heights

Formal peace negotiations are set to start next week between Israel and Syria. The two countries stopped peace negotiations eight years ago, unable to overcome the main stumbling block – the Golan Heights. Four separate issues will be on the ta

Over the past few days Syrian flags, with their distinctive red stripes and stars, have been flying from the rooftops of buildings throughout the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. A sure sign that people there want to return to their families on the other side of the border.

After Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967, families were split and relatives have been unable to see one another for years.

Maher Abujadbal is building his house right at the edge. He prefers not to see the border fence that’s only ten metres from his property. But until his village returns to Syria, this is the closest he can get to his cousin.
Another Syrian, Ali al-Maree, says he was once the millionaire of the Golan. But then the war came and he found himself on Israeli soil, cut off from his business contacts. Today all he has is a small exchange shop and no illusions about peace.
“I know war and I want nothing more than peace. I was a soldier in the Syrian army. My mother was killed by a 50-tonne bomb that exploded outside our house. I’m not hopeful that one day there will be peace but if the Israelis cut a deal with Syria it will be more stable than peace between the Egyptians and Palestinians,” he said.

Away from the cameras, it’s far less certain that everyone in the village wants to return to Syria.

“I’m afraid that they will find themselves one day again under the Syrian regime. And they know that the Syrians will never forgive them, even if they made faces of being happy under Israeli occupation. This is why they have to play the game – in order to stay alive,” said Dr Mordechai Kedar from the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies.

But there is another problem that only peace can solve. More than 20 citizens of the village are in Israeli jails. One of them is expected to die from cancer in the next few months. His comrades protest almost daily, trying to get him freed before the talks. What’s not clear is whether he'll be the last casualty of the conflict between Israel and Syria or the first symbol of a new peace deal in the Middle East.