TEL AVIV (Aug. 25)
The planned opening of a checkpoint on the Golan Heights to allow Druze families from Israel and Syria to visit with each other may mark the beginning of something new in Israel’s relations with its most bitter enemy. The United Nations will be in charge of the new checkpoint which will be on the disengagement line near the northern Golan village of Majdal Shams. UN observers were seen today setting up the posts.
Defense Minister Shimon Peres, in telling the Cabinet about the new setup said that Syria and Israel agreed to allow Druze families to have reunions at the checkpoint under UN auspices. Peres said the only restriction was that the Druze would be unarmed.
If the exchange goes through, it will be the third frontline country border where Israel will allow Arab families to exchange visits. The bridges over the Jordan River have been opened every summer for what has been called a “summer visitors” program which allows Arabs from many countries to come to Israel. This week, Lebanese villagers who have been coming to the Israeli border for aid for several months were allowed to come through for stays of two weeks to a month with their families in Israel.
DRUZE THANKFUL IN ISRAEL, SYRIA
Suleiman Kanj, leader of the Golan Druze, said today that all Druze will be thankful to both Israel and Syria for allowing them to see their families. For nearly a year Golan Druze have come to the area near Majdal Shams, climbed the steep slopes to shout across the barbed wire fences at their families on the other side. Some have used megaphones.
However, after a Druze sergeant in the Syrian army was caught using the area to gather intelligence information, Israel put a stop to the makeshift setup. There are about 38,000 Druze in Israel and 250,000 in Syria.
Meanwhile, there is no indication what the new opening will mean toward Syrian-Israeli relations Syria has been considered the most intractable of frontline states. It has gone along reluctantly with the disengagement agreement on the Golan while strongly criticizing the Israeli-Egyptian Sinai agreement of last year.