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Syria to buy apples from Golan Heights

DAMASCUS -- Syria said yesterday that it will buy apples from the Arab farmers of the Golan Heights, the first time it has traded with Israeli-occupied territory.

Syria is one of the Arab world's strongest opponents of Israel, which captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed the plateau in 1981.

"Due to the harsh economic conditions which our brothers in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights are suffering from, and in an effort to meet their repeated demands that we buy some of their accumulated apple produce, we have decided to buy 10,000 tons of their apples," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.

In explaining the decision, the ministry said the fruit is "Syrian, grown on Syrian land, and owned by Syrians." The objective is "to meet the pressing demands of Syrian citizens languishing under occupation and to help alleviate their suffering."

Israel responded positively to the decision.

"It is our hope that trade across the frontier between Israel and her Arab neighbors in the not-too-distant future will be a common event as we move forward to enhanced peace and cooperation in the region," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

The ministry said the apples would enter Syria through the Quneitra checkpoint on the Golan border, 40 miles southwest of Damascus, under the supervision of the United Nations Disengagement and Observer Forces, which has made the necessary contacts.

The purchase will be the first economic exchange between Syria and the residents of the Golan Heights since Israel captured the plateau. The statement indicated this deal was a one-time affair.

Hamed al-Halabi, a Syrian teacher originally from the Golan, said in Damascus yesterday that the annual apple production in the heights is between 30,000 and 40,000 tons. The apples are sold mainly to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with a small proportion going to the Israeli market, he said.

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