(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Deputy Minister of the Negev and Galilee Ayoub Kara announced Sunday that he would work to formulate a systemic policy to remove Israeli minefields after years of the Defense Ministry failing to effectively address the issue.
Kara went on a fact-finding trip to the Golan Heights on Sunday to see firsthand the minefields containing thousands of potentially explosive devices, which are deployed throughout the popular tourist destination.
Kara’s first stop was to the Gadot overlook, near the site where, two weeks ago, Daniel and Amit Yuval were injured by a land mine while playing in the snow. The injury of the two children, which occurred when dozens of snow-seekers unwittingly entered what they say was an unmarked minefield, has raised awareness of the many land mines still buried along Israel’s borders.
At the Gadot overlook, Kara met with Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka, as well as representatives of government ministries and the Coalition for a Mine-Free Israel. Despite the fact that Kara requested that the Defense Ministry send a representative to the Sunday visit, the Defense Ministry – which Kara said has dragged its feet for years on the issue of mine-clearing – was not present.
Kara’s office said that for years, Israeli Defense Ministers have chosen to avoid dealing with mine removal. Kara said that he now plans to take the reins from the Defense Ministry, and to meet personally with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss the issue.
A major international accord to prevent anti-personnel mines went into effect in 1999 and 156 states throughout the world committed to clear minefields in their territories. Jordan, according to Kara’s office, has already cleared all the IDF and Jordanian mines along its border with Israel.
Kara’s office said that thousands of mines that have no strategic purpose are still buried in Israel, mostly in fields and open lands in the Golan, the Arava and the Jordan Valley. A total of 33,000 dunams (3,300 hectares) of land in Israel are considered dangerous minefields, and Kara’s office emphasized that clearing the non-strategically necessary mines could improve Israel’s international standing.
During his visit to the area, Kara also met with a delegation of Druse leaders who are expected to travel to visit co-religionists in Syria. In the meeting, Kara briefed them in hopes that they would be able to advance negotiations regarding water imports from Syria to Druse communities in the Golan Heights.
The four Druse communities, concentrated in the northern tip of the Golan and on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, already have some limited trade relations with Syria. Apples grown by the communities, which vocally maintain their loyalty to Syria, have been exported through the Kunetra checkpoint to Syrian and even Saudi Arabian markets.
Last week, Kara met with US Ambassador James Cunningham, and the two
discussed the prospects of water imports. Kara said the ambassador
supported the initiative, saying it could improve relations between
Jerusalem and Damascus, and that he will share the idea with the
incoming ambassador, slated to take office in the coming weeks.
Druse elders noted that the infrastructure still exists for water pipelines from Syrian springs to the town of Majdal Shams.