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Israel exports apple harvest to Syria

02-16-2011 16:34 BJT

JERUSALEM, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- Israel on Tuesday began to allow the export of apples from Druze and Israeli farmers on the occupied Golan Heights to Syria, the sixth annual goodwill gesture taking place against a background of political and military tensions between the two countries over the territory, which Israel took over in the 1967 war.

The Israeli government extended civilian rule to the 440 square mile (1,158 square kilometer) plateau in 1981. Both Syria and the United Nations rejected the Israeli move.

The Israel Defense Forces oversaw the escort of security aspects of Tuesday's "back-to-back" trucking operation from the Israeli side, in conjunction with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force.

"What you see today is actually the beginning of a 10-week- long operation, of transporting 12,000 tons of apples from the Golan into Syria," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson Nadia Dibsy told Xinhua.

ICRC representatives in both countries are overseeing the export of the produce.

"This is a rather lengthy process to coordinate, and we're very happy today that all the coordination has been done, and that all the apples are going through," Dibsy said, adding, "This is a very important economic initiative for the farmers of the Golan."

Behind her, the first groups of three dozen Jordanian- supplied trucks roared by. As they passed through a terminal area at the crossing point, they stopped for a brief inspection by an Israeli army "Oketz" canine corps trainer, who quickly ran her German shepherd around the vehicle.

The trainer quietly encouraged the dog to quickly sniff the undercarriage and other hard-to-reach areas of each of the transports, looking for possible contraband or explosive devices.

She estimated that the entire operation would take about 10 weeks, and viewed the event as a "happy day."

"From an economic point of view, from a humanitarian point of view, it's an opportunity for the farmers to be able to market their produce in Syria," Dibsy said.

"The Israeli apples are going through to the Syrian side and everybody is cooperating - we're very happy to be doing this," Bennet Shumamovanga, a Kenyan driver of one of the open-sided trucks, said as several forklifts quickly loaded pallets holding white boxes of apples onto his vehicle.

A number of Druze area representatives and workers took part in the operation.

There are 41,400 people living in the Golan, with the Druze making up over half of the area's population. About 43 percent of the residents are Jewish civilians residing in 33 communities, and another five percent Muslim, according to figures released by Israeli non-profit organization Media Central.

Approximately 100 square kilometers (38 square miles) of the plateau is agricultural land, with 80 percent farmed by Jews, and 20 percent by Druze.

Editor:Du Xiaodan |Source: Xinhua

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