Israeli troops shot dead four people on its disputed border with Syria on Sunday, as protests by Palestinians to mark what they term “the catastrophe” of Israel’s founding in 1948, turned violent in numerous locations.
Israel’s border with Syria along the Golan Heights has been quiet for decades but on Sunday, for the first time in memory, protesters tore through the flimsy frontier fence at the Druze village of Majdal Shams.
Here are some facts about the Golan Heights, which stand at the heart of a long-standing conflict between Israel and Syria.
- The Golan Heights form a strategic plateau between Israel and Syria of about 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles). Israel captured it in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally.
- Between 1967-2008 some 18,000 Israeli settlers had moved to the Golan, which also borders Jordan. Some 20,000 Druze Muslims also live there. Israel gave the Druze the option of citizenship though most rejected it. – Syria tried to regain the Golan Heights in the 1973 Middle East war, but the assault was thwarted. The two signed an armistice in 1974 and the Golan had been relatively quiet since. Syria is home to about 470,000 Palestinian refugees.
- The Golan contains important water sources and has further strategic value because it overlooks northeastern Israel including the Sea of Galilee, a tourist attraction and Israel’s biggest open reservoir.
- In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest-level talks over a possible return of the Golan and a peace agreement. But the negotiations collapsed and subsequent talks, mediated by Turkey, also failed.