Israeli “Sufa 53” complicates farmers’ movement along border
Enab Baladi – Zain al-Jolani
The border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has been witnessing a state of Israeli alert and mobilization for months, as the Israeli army’s entry into the Syrian territory is repeated continuously.
The tension increased after the start of the construction of the “Sufa 53” road from the Israeli side as local Syrian farmers in the area are repeatedly prevented from entering their lands under the pretext of Israeli security measures.
This restriction has raised fears among the residents of Quneitra governorate, especially after the repeated cases of opening fire by Israeli troops at shepherds, hunters, and farmers approaching the border strip.
On March 12, an Israeli military unit arrested a shepherd near the village of al-Hurriya, and after hours of interrogation, the group re-released him, and the Syrian regime forces again arrested him when he entered his village.
Ahmed’s agricultural land is located in the southern countryside of Quneitra, close to the border strip with Israel, where he frequents almost daily because agriculture is his main source of income.
Ahmed (pseudonym for security reasons) told Enab Baladi that the area has turned into an arena for the Israeli army to operate inside Syrian territory for nearly ten years, as military vehicles are constantly visiting the area.
It was a normal situation until the tension and fear escalated with the repeated incidents of shooting at farmers and hunters by the Israeli army.
He added that the period that followed the regime’s takeover of southern Syria in 2018 witnessed general calm near the borders, as farmers were approaching the strip separating the two countries “as if they were sitting with the Israeli army,” according to the farmer.
Later, the treatment changed, as everyone approaching the border, whether a farmer or a civilian, became liable to be arrested or beaten with bullets or smoke bombs.
On January 30, the Israeli authorities opened an investigation into the killing of a Syrian and the wounding of another near the Syrian border with the occupied territories.
Israeli Channel 12 said that the Israeli army launched an investigation into the killing of a Syrian hunter by its forces’ fire, and the results of the investigation with the soldiers showed that the Syrian militants “did not approach the Israeli borders to sabotage.”
“Sufa” changed local habits
Hussein (pseudonym), a shepherd, noticed that approaching the border fence has become dangerous these days, with repeated attacks on civilians in the area by the Israeli army.
He added to Enab Baladi that this tension became noticeable after Israel built a new road in the region, which was called “Sufa 53,” as civilians were prevented from approaching the borders after that.
In early January, a group of peacekeepers spoke to farmers who tried to enter their agricultural lands near the border south of Quneitra through an interpreter that the United Nations would distribute identification cards allowing the owners of these lands to enter the area without being questioned.
While no information was received about the beginning of the implementation of this decision until the moment this report was published, nor did any farmer receive a notification to receive the card, according to farmers interviewed by Enab Baladi in the region.
Since mid-2022, Israeli forces have entered Syrian territory with a military force consisting of six Merkava tanks and two military bulldozers, accompanied by a number of soldiers to monitor the borders and vehicles in order to construct the new “Sufa 53” road.
During the paving of the road, this military force reached a depth of between 100 meters and one kilometer inside Syrian territory.
Waiting for the card
In the village of al-Hurriya, Shaher, a man in his sixties, goes to his agricultural land near the border fence to prune his trees or to check his crops.
In early March, during his routine work on his agricultural land, an Israeli military group arrested him at gunpoint and shouting after they suspected that he was collecting information about their forces.
After investigations that lasted for hours on the Israeli side of the border, the Israeli forces took him to the Syrian side of the border.
The man told Enab Baladi that he had asked the Israeli army unit that arrested him about the cards that the peacekeeping forces had promised them, while the army unit stated that it had no information in this regard.
Farmers’ fears are not limited to their interests in the region and the tightening resulting from the constant security alert at the borders but rather went beyond that following the repeated shelling by the Israeli army on the southern countryside of Quneitra.
On March 2, the Israeli army targeted, with tank shells, a military site of the Syrian regime forces in the village of Bir Ajam, south of Quneitra.
There were no reports of any human losses, nor was the news of the bombing reported by the Syrian regime media, in addition to ignoring repeated reports of the Israeli forces’ entry into Syrian territory.
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