Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Syria 2005 - Quneitra

Maybe time is right to update Syria 2005 - the travelogue of my trip to Syria a year ago.

On 1st June 2005, I visited Quneitra, the former administrative capital city of the Golan Heights. Following what's written on page 129 of Lonely Planet Syria & Lebanon (2nd ed.), I first went to the Ministry of the Interior early in the morning to obtain a permit to enter Quneitra. The Ministry building located in north-west Damascus was guarded by a man with a machine gun. After passing my passport to an official and waiting for around 15 minutes next to the machine-gun wielding man, I received the entry permit.

Then I went down to the Baramke bus garage in south Damascus. If I remember correctly, I walked down to the bus garage for an hour because Syrian taxi drivers were not reliable at all - they don't speak English at all and don't know how to get anywhere in Damascus.

At the bus garage, I just asked anybody there for which bus goes to Quneitra, by just repeating "Quneitra" as most Syrians don't understand English. Syrians always try to be helpful, if they're actually not helpful. I re-read Lonely Planet, learning that a bus from here only goes to Khan Arnabah, a town about 10km short of Quneitra. I showed people at the garage the Arabic letters written next to "Khan Arnabah" on Lonely Planet, and finally managed to take a microbus - a white van (perhaps Toyota or Nissan) used as a bus - which goes to Khan Arnabah.

After an hour or so, the bus arrived at Khan Arnabah. I don't really remember how I got to Quneitra after that, but somehow I managed to get on a final ride to Quneitra.

On the way, the car pulled up in front of a police(?) office at which I presented the entry permit. A "tour guide" appeared and he joined my journey to Quneitra.

I finally arrived at Quneitra. The guide took me around the town.

Literally flattened houses

Everything here has remained the same since Israelis withdrew from the town after the 1973 cease-fire. Syria alleges Israelis for destroying Quneitra upon their withdrawal while Israelis claim that the town was destroyed by battles between Israel and Syria during their occupation of the town (1967-73) - see an article by Alex Safian.

A former hospital with a billboard attached by Syria which reads "Golan Hospital - Destructed by Zionists and changed it to firing target!"

Inside the hospital

In any case, this ghost town vividly shows how deeply Syrians - or at least the government of Syria - distrust Israelis.

Taking picture of this town was no problem unless my camera headed for where Israeli soldiers were stationed.

By Googling "Quneitra", I found that the former pope visited Quneitra in 2001.

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