Israel to Complete First Stage of Withdrawal Friday

Israel will complete its withdrawal from the southeastern corner of the Syrian territory captured in the Yom Kippur War Friday, marking the end of the first stage of the four stage disengagement process agreed to at Geneva. The entire process is expected to be completed no later than June 26 when Israel hands over to the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) three positions on Mt. Hermon, the town of Kuneitra and the Rafid salient which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war.

Maj. Gen. Rafael Eitan, commander of the northern front, said today that no difficulties have arisen so far in implementing the disengagement accord. Israel has started to pull back its forces from the southern Golan Heights as per the agreement. At the same time, he emphasized the Army is building new defense lines. A UN post has been established at Tel Shams on the Kuneitra Damascus road where Israeli and Syrian liaison officers meet under UN auspices. The atmosphere of these meetings, described yesterday as “warm,” was re-defined today as “congenial.” The Israeli and Syrian officers, though correct in their behavior, hardly talk to each other, a source reported.

Meanwhile Sheikh Sullman Kanj, leader of the Golan Heights Druze, warned Israel today of Syrian treachery and appealed to Israeli authorities not to hand over the buffer zone to the UN until Druze villagers in the region are compensated for their land and their security is assured. The Shaikh expressed fear that the Syrians who take over civilian administration of Kuneitra would populate the town with terrorists. He claimed that the Syrians had no intention of reaching an agreement with Israel and only wanted to regain territory to make it easier to launch a new war on Israel.

According to the agreements signed in Geneva, the UN-policed buffer zone will include more than 20,000 dunams (5,000 acres) of land that belongs to Druze villagers from Majdal Shams, Massada and Bukaata in the northern Golan Heights.

UN forces have already moved into positions between Israeli and Syrian armies in the Yom Kippur War enclave and the southern Golan Heights where Israeli withdrawal began four days ago. The second stage of disengagement will start Saturday and the third stage in the northern part of the Yom Kippur War enclave is expected to begin June 19. As Israeli forces withdraw in each stage, a corresponding thinning out of Syrian forces on their side of the line is supposed to take place.

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