Je bekijkt de reis...
Reisverslag Second report (English)
17 augustus 2014
Second report (English)
Now I will write a rather technical report, but it gives quite a good resemblance of my working area. In the 1974 agreement between Israel and Syria it is stated that there shall be an Area Of Separation (AOS). This is an area that is in between both countries, and in that way divides them from each other. It is a piece of land that has a minimum width of 200 metres and a maximum of 10 kilometres. The area starts way up north at the border with Lebanon and stretches south over a distance of about 75 km to the border with Jordan. On the western side is the occupied Golan by Israel and on the eastern side is Syria. The AOS is under the administrative jurisdiction of Syria. This means that Syrian civilians live in the AOS. It is a demilitarised zone. Outside of this zone there are a designated areas where some troupes or equipment are allowed, but only into low quantities. I am not going to mention all the details, way too much! As already mentioned, on the western side of the AOS is the occupied Golan by Israel. This area is under the jurisdiction of Israel. And about 25 km westwards is Israel and its border as drawn in 1947. More or less parallel on the western border of the AOS, Israel has built a large fence, the so called “Technical Fence”. It is equipped with cameras and sensors. So not passable by ordinary civilians but also not military. And it is guarded heavily by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Have a look on the chart of this area or look on google earth. You will see that this area is actually marked with some kind of borders or lines drawn in de map. Possibly roads are not visible because this is area is still “under construction”, just like the occupied Golan by Israel.
I hope you’re still with me…… only a few more facts. As mentioned there are 11 OP’s. Six on the Israeli side and five on the Syrian side. On the Israeli side they are located on the eastern side of the Technical Fence (TF). This means when UN personnel wants to travel to or from these OP’s, someone from the IDF has to come to open the gate! And despite that the UN has ”freedom of movement”, the gate in the TF is only opened twice a day. But UN personnel to these OP’s is not allowed to travel through Syria, because from the Syrian side there is no border with the not existing country of Israel!
On the Syrian side there are five OP’s. But until this day that number has been reduced to two, OP72, the one I am working and OP71 further up north. What is the story behind that? In March 2013 the rebels (Anti Government Armed Elements, AGAE) started their campaign and moved north. Some of these groups were quite hostile, even to the UN. Therefor OP57 and OP58 were evacuated. And in the last month there has been a gradually build-up of troupes and arms in this area. Also around OP56 this has been done. This OP is 6 km south of us. At a distance of only 100 metres SAAF started building a battle position. UN personnel and material are not a target and also not taking part in the conflict. But AGAE and SAAF fight their civil war and in that way the OP can be hit by fire from one of the parties. And in the last month the OP has been hit! For now there are only armed UN forces on the OP, and the Military Observers (my colleagues) have been evacuated. What will happen in the future is unclear.
For now OP72 is safe. From this OP one can here the fighting and at night see the firing of weapons. It is only at a distance of about 5 – 10 km. But around our OP SAAF (Syrian Arab Armed Forces) is still quite strong in presence.
Life on the OP. We are on the OP for a week or sometime two weeks in a row. We don’t get of the OP, we do our work within the fences of our OP. We observe from our platform that overlooks the surrounding area. The Golan Heights is at about a height of 1000 metres above sea level. On these heights there are a number of hills with a height of 20 – 100 metres. Our OP is on Tall Kurum Al Khan, 1023 metres above sea level. So we overlook for instance the villages of Khan Arnabah an Al Baath. Besides this there are a large number of Syrian army positions in the scenery. Our OP is also inside the AOS, but because this area is under Syrian jurisdiction, there is no fence or wall. But the border of this area is marked with barrels, which are painted red and white and are placed on a large stick. For us these barrels are quite important and we have to know all of them and where they are placed. They show in which area armed forces and material are or are not allowed.
As most of you know there is an ongoing civil war in Syria. Also around our OP not everything is under control of SAAF. West of us a large area is under control of AGAE. But the different fractions in Syria are not alike, and don’t have a central command. The AGAE that are close to our OP have some sort of arrangement with SAAF that they do not engage each other. For now at least! But every once and a while there is some firing from SAAF into this area. And since this is a violation of the agreement, this will be reported by us. Just like we report the military equipment that is present inside the AOS. The strange thing (and difficult) is that we don’t report the use of military equipment by the AGAE, because they are not a party in the 1974 agreement. Of course we write an observation of this.
During this civil war it sometimes happens that spill over lands in occupied Golan by Israel. In this case Israel doesn’t hesitate to react and retaliate. But in this case always SAAF positions are hit, because according to Israel, Syria is responsible for what AGAE do inside Syria. Because SAAF still represents the government of Syria.
On the other hand it is well known that wounded AGAE fighters are treated in Israeli hospitals. These wounded fighters are transported through the TF (Technical Fence) I mentioned earlier. And after they are healed they are transported back to Syria.
On the OP there is of course also the normal routine of life. Cleaning and cooking, everyone gets a turn. And manning of the observation platform. Cooking is done with what is available and bought during OP shopping every Sunday. And there is no M&S around! But we are inventive and it is fun that you eat something different every day. Besides all this there is time for sports, we’ve got an exercise bike and some weights to lift.
Till so far my report from Syria. Next time some more about life in Tiberias and also the holiday I had with Louis in Israel.
17 augustus 2014 20:26 | Door: Joost Bergisch
Dank voor je verslag. Het verbaast me, hoe je gelijkmatig, maar niet onverschillig kunt zijn in een
situatie die weinig moedgevend is.
Zeer van harte hoop ik, dat de strijdende partijen zich inhouden, niet alleen tegen mensen die geen deel aan het conflict hebben, maar ook tegen elkaar. Moord is geen oplossing.
Veel sterkte, groet, Joost