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1974: Violent border clashes at Golan Heights

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and three others injured in the worst day of violence along the Golan Heights in three months.

Initial reports say Syria began shelling the northern sector of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel, at 1100 local time.

An hour later the shooting is reported to have spread southwards, ceasing for a while before there was an exchange of fire at 1630.

A statement released by the Syrian military said it had begun shelling after attempts by Israel to strengthen its hold in the central and northern sectors of the region captured during the war.

Strain on negotiations

Israeli gunners reported hitting Syrian bunkers and various military positions throughout the day in retaliation for the highest casualty toll in a single day along the border.

The five hour exchange of fire came on the seventh day of border clashes along the Golan Heights.

Defence minister Moshe Dayan is expected to visit troops along the Golan Heights front tomorrow.

Israel declared a state of alert on the front two weeks ago after receiving what it described as "terrorist information" suggesting a possible Syrian offensive.

Despite an unarmed 110-man UN Truce Supervision Organisation, including Soviets and Americans, based at 19 posts along the Golan front, there has been little let up in the violence.

The clashes have placed a strain on negotiations currently taking place behind the scenes to broker a disengagement agreement between the two countries.

Senior Israeli officials are expected in Washington for talks, to be followed, it is understood, by their Syrian counterparts.

Israel first captured the Golan Heights during the 1967 war but Syria and Egypt launched an attack in October 1973 to retake them.

They made some gains before being pushed back by Israeli troops.

In Context
There were more casualties in the days that followed including the deaths of some UN workers patrolling the area, which brought widespread condemnation.

Many rounds of shuttle diplomacy were undertaken by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger after the 1973 war.

In May 1974 the Israel-Syria disengagement agreement was signed

This reduced Israel's positions in both the Sinai Peninsula, with Egypt, and the Golan Heights.

But in December 1981 Israel formally annexed part of the Golan Heights. The move was not recognised internationally.

There are more than 30 Jewish settlements on the heights, with about 17,000 settlers. There are some 20,000 Syrians in the area, most of them members of the Druze sect.


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