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October 2000

Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights, 1992

Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights, 1992


Syria is located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea and Lebanon to the West, and Iraq to the East. Most of the population lives in the Euphrates River valley and along the coastal plain, a fertile strip between the coastal mountains and the desert.

Archaeologists have demonstrated that Syria was the center of one of the most ancient civilizations on earth. Around the excavated city of Ebla in northern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia

from 2500 to 2400 B.C. The city of Ebla alone, during that time, had a population estimated at 260,000. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be the oldest Semitic language.

Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Arameans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Nabataeans, Byzantines, and, in part, Crusaders before

finally coming under the control of the Ottoman Turks in 1517. The Ottomans remained for the next 400 years, except for a brief occupation by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt from 1832 to 1840.

Syria is a middle-income developing country with a diversified economy based on agriculture, industry, and an expanding energy sector. During the 1960s, citing its state socialist ideology, the

government nationalized most major enterprises and adopted economic policies designed to address regional and class disparities. Despite the positive growth rates of the past few years, this legacy of state intervention and price, trade, and foreign exchange controls still hampers economic growth.


Israel is located in the Middle East, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt to the West, and Syria and Jordan to the East. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than 50 years of efforts by Zionist leaders to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for Jews. The desire of Jews to return to what they consider their homeland was first expressed during the Babylonian exile. It became a universal Jewish theme after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. and the dispersal that followed. It was not until the founding of the Zionist movement by Theodore Herzl at the end of the 19th century that

practical steps were taken toward securing international sanction for large-scale Jewish settlement in Palestine--then a part of the Ottoman Empire.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Its governmental system is based on several basic laws enacted by its unicameral parliament, the Knesset. The president (chief of state) is elected by the Knesset for a 5-year term. The prime minister (head of government) exercises executive power and has in the past been selected by the president as the party leader most able to form a government. The members of the cabinet must be collectively approved by the Knesset. In the May 1996 elections, Israelis for the first time voted for the prime minister directly, in accordance with recent legislation.

Israel has a diversified modern economy with substantial government ownership and a rapidly developing high-tech sector. Poor in natural resources, Israel depends on imports of oil, coal, food, uncut diamonds, other production inputs, and military equipment. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1997 reached $98 billion, or $16,800 per person. The major industrial sectors include metal products, electronic and biomedical equipment, processed foods, chemicals, and transport equipment. Israel possesses a substantial service sector and is one of the world's centers for diamond cutting and polishing. It is also a world leader in software development and is a major tourist destina

The World Factbook, CIA, US Department State Background Notes, 4/1999 12/1998

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