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Soviet Jews Move into Golan Kibbutz, in Move Likely to Infuriate Syrians

A group of Soviet immigrants moved into an abandoned kibbutz on the Golan Heights on Monday, in what could be construed a provocative gesture toward Syria on the day after Israeli and Syrian delegations met for the first time in direct negotiations in Madrid.

In fact, the ceremony, planned originally to take place two weeks ago, had been postponed at the request of the Cabinet, which feared Damascus might interpreted the move as purposely insulting.

Kibbutz Kelah has a checkered history. Established by the United Kibbutz Movement, its residents abandoned the place two years ago. It was taken over by Nahal, a branch of the Israel Defense Force which combines agricultural work with military operations and training.

Recently the IDF decided to return the settlement to civilian control. It found 22 families, all new immigrants from the Soviet Union, willing to move into the abandoned buildings.

Those olim had been in the country barely a month but had already become members of the right-wing Herut-Betar movement.

The ceremonial revival of Kelah, on territory seized from Syria in 1967 and annexed by Israel in 1980, was attended by three right-wing ministers.

Two of them, Ariel Sharon of Likud and Yuval Ne’eman of Tehiya, had voted against Israel’s participation in the Middle East peace conference, co-hosted by the United States and Soviet Union in Madrid.

The third, Rafael Eitan of Tsomet, voted with the majority of the Cabinet to attend the conference. He said he trusted Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir not to cede an inch of territory for peace. Plans call for converting Kelah into a village with 300 housing units.

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