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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 January, 2004, 15:00 GMT
Analysis: Israel's Golan options
By James Rodgers
BBC correspondent in the Golan

From their highest observation post, the Israeli Army keep watch on Syria and Lebanon. The lands they survey are hostile to them. Syria wants the return of the Golan Heights, captured in 1967 and annexed 14 years later.

Last month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for a resumption of talks on the issue. An early round of discussions broke down three years ago, after Israeli had offered to return part of the Golan to Syria.

Israeli soldiers
Israeli soldiers keep watch over the Israel-Syria border

The border is tense, but quiet. The commander here, who gives his name only as Lieutenant Colonel Amir is concerned about Lebanon, from where he says Syria is making war on Israel through the fighters of Hezbollah.

"The situation at the moment is a bit tense. We are always ready for a Hezbollah attack.

"Since the Yom Kippur War the Syrian area has been very quiet on the Golan Heights, but the Syrians use today the Hezbollah as their main weapon against us."

The Israeli Army is urging the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to heed Syria's call to resume peace negotiations. The influential Finance Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says it's in Israel's interest to take advantage of the opportunity.

Further south, the wind rages through the ruins of Syrian village seized in 1967. Thirty-seven years after the battle for the Golan you can still see the marks it left.

The buildings around me are being battered by a winter rainstorm, but they are also still scarred with bullet holes.

One mosque has a minaret disfigured by shot and shell. Its walls are covered in graffiti scrawled by Israeli soldiers who have passed this way and across the road there is a red sign warning in Hebrew, English and Arabic: "Fire Zone".

The Syrians are long gone and the Israelis seem to be here to stay. At the kibbutz of Ortal, which has been taking shape since the 1970s, there are fruit trees, a dairy farm, a guest house and a riding stable. It is not the sort of place which people seem ready to leave.

Segev Yarovan fell in love with the Golan when he was a soldier. His military service finished and he came to live here. Now 46, he wants to stay.

"I feel safe in the Golan. I say it is the most secure region, so long as we are spared two things: a war or peace. But between war and peace this is the most secure place for the Israeli citizens."

Aside from its worth in war, the Golan is a valuable source of water. The mountains catch the winter rains which flow into the Jordan River. This will be another huge issue in any negotiations.

The Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says that if Syria wants peace it must show it with deeds, not just words.

"First, stop terrorist operations from Damascus and Syria. Damascus is hosting all of the most brutal terrorist organisations.

"Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and others, are daily engaged in the most brutal terrorist attempts made on Israeli citizens.

"If they want peace, they can start peace at home."

Now though, senior Israeli figures say the government should talk to the Syrians, if only to see if they are serious.

With Saddam Hussein finished as a force in the region and Damascus under US pressure, the Israelis feel they may be in the position to get the sort of deal they want.




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