Syria has signed its first trade deal with Israel. Ten thousand apples will soon be making their way across the border.
Syrians living in the Golan Heights are having a hard time. Their land is occupied and annexed by Israel, Ariel Sharon has rejected recent Syrian overtures to negotiate the future of the Heights and thousands more Israeli houses are to be built on their land.
The border has been closed since 1967 – families straddled across the border go to the ‘shouting valley’ each day. They use loudpspeakers to communicate with family members who they haven’t seen for forty years (there are no telephone links).
And now the farmers can’t even sell their produce.
The recent blockades of Palestinian towns in the West Bank and Gaza have stopped the Occupied Syrians from getting access to their customers. And they aren’t allowed to export.
So they’ve been pleading with Damascus to help them.
And amazingly Syria and Israel have agreed on something. The border – which is just 40 miles south of Damascus – will soon be open, and UN peacekeepers will bring a third of their apple crop across.
But Syria denied it was a trade deal with Israel. The fruit is “Syrian, grown on Syrian land and owned by Syrians”, the Foreign Ministry said.
In recent years the border has creaked open for one-off occasions. Students have entered to study in Damascus, and women have crossed to marry.
Ehud Barak and Hafez Al-Assad were reportedly minutes away from returning the Golan Heights to Syria in 2000, and were only negotiating over a small stretch of land 100 meters wide. Negotiations haven’t resumed since Ariel Sharon came to power days later.