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Golan Heights

The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. It is one of the territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War. The Golan Heights are currently under Israeli control, though claimed by Syria. The Israeli position on the Heights has been a source of criticism from the international community, which demands withdrawal. In addition, the international community demands that the original inhabitants made refugees by the invading Israeli army should be allowed to return.

Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River, and to the south to the Yarmouk River[?]. The Golan is usually divided into three regions: northern (between Nahals Sa'ar and Gilabon), central (between Nahals Gilabon and Dilayot), and southern (between Nahal Dilayot and the Yarmouk Valley).

Current status The Heights were controlled by the Israeli army from 1967 until 1981 when the Knesset annexed the land with The Golan Heights Law. This annexation has not been internationally recognized, and the Golan is generally considered occupied territory. The 1981 law awarded Israeli citizenship to the Syrian citizens who remained in the area after the 1967 war. The final status of the Golan Heights is pending to be determined as a part of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.

A UN force - UNDOF (Disengagement Observer Force) was established in 1974 to supervise the implementation of the agreement and maintain the ceasefire with an area of separation.

The Syrian and Israeli governments are still contesting the ownership of the Heights but have not used overt military force since 1974. The great strategic value of the Heights both militarily and as a source of water means that a deal is uncertain.

Ancient History Like a number of other regions, this area has been contested for thousands of years. During the 3rd Millennium BCE the Ammorites dominated and inhabited the Golan until the 2nd Millennium when they were substituted by the Arameans. Later known as Bashan, the area was contested between Israel (the northern of the two Jewish kingdoms extant at that time) and the Aramean kingdom since the 800s BCE. King Ahab of Israel (reigned 874-852 BCE) defeated Ben-Hadad I in the southern Golan.

In the 700s BCE the Assyrians gained control of the area, but were later replaced by the Babylonian and the Persian Empire. In the 5th century BCE, the region was settled by returning Jewish exiles from Babylon (modern Iraq).

In the 4th cenury BCE, the area came under the control of Alexander the Great and remained under Hellenestic rule, until captured by the Romans. In the mid 2nd century BCE, Judah Maccabee[?] aided the local Jewish communities when they came under attack, although the area itself was not in Jewish hands.

The area was named Golan following the Roman occupation - The Greeks referred to the area as "Gaulanitis", the term used by the Romans, which led to the word "Golan". After the partioning of the Roman Empire in 391 AD, the Golan Heights became part of the Byzantine Empire. In 636, the area came under Arab control and quickly under the control of the Caliph in Baghdad. In the 15th and 16th C, Druze began to settle the northern Golan and the slopes of Mount Hermon[?]. Sudanese, Algerians, Turkomans and Samarian Arabs also settled on the Heights. In the 16th centrury, the Ottoman Turks came in control of the area, and remained so until the end of World War I.

In the 1880s, a Jewish community called Ramataniya was started; it failed within a year. In 1891, Baron Rothschild[?] purchased approximately 18,000 acres of land in what is now Syria which became home to a small local Jewish community. This area were farmed by Jews until 1947 when the land was seized by the Syrian army.

Most of the Golan Heights were included within the British Mandate of Palestine when the mandate was granted in 1922. In 1923, they were given by the British to the French in exchange for a strip of land in the Metula area. The Heights became part of Syria at the end of the French mandate in 1944.

After the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War, the Syrians fortified on the Heights, from which they shelled civilian targets in Israel and launched other attacks for the next eighteen years. 140 Israelis were killed and many more were injured in these attacks from 1949 to 1967.

Recent history During the Six-Day War (1967), the IDF captured the Golan Heights on 9-10 June. The area which came under Israeli control as a result of the war is two geologically distinct areas: the Golan Heights proper (1,070 kmē) and the slopes of the Mt. Hermon range (100 kmē).

Most of the Golans' inhabitants, mainly Syrian Arabs, fled. For various political reasons, they have not been allowed to return. This has led to the unfortunate splitting of many families. The Israelis began resettling almost immediately followed the war. Kibbutz Merom Golan was founded in July 1967. By 1970 there were 12 Jewish communities on the Golan and by 2000 there were 33 settlements holding around 14,000 people. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Syrian forces captured parts of the Heights, before being pushed back beyond the border by a Israeli counterattack. Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire agreement in 1974 that left the Heights in Israeli hands.

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