- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 9 (UPI) — Israel on Thursday returned the body of a Syrian man its soldiers killed the day before in a clash in the southern Golan Heights, and later returned his comrade taken prisoner.

The Israelis said the two were soldiers, but according to Syrian accounts at least one of them was a policeman.

The transfers were carried out through a U.N. force deployed in the demilitarized zone between Syrian and Israeli forces on the Golan.

The incident occurred Wednesday when the two ventured across disputed lines between the two countries, designations not marked in the field, and walked toward the Rakkad stream. They encountered an Israeli force on a foot patrol, however, and shots rang out. Each side blamed the other for initiating the exchange, the first in 29 years.

The Israelis killed one of the Syrians, who it said was armed, and captured the other who was in civilian dress and unarmed. The man was taken for questioning and apparently convinced his interrogators they had gone to drink.

A security source told reporters in Tel Aviv Thursday that it was not clear why the two had crossed.

The Syrians said a third person disappeared, but so far the Israelis have accounted for only two people.

Syria accused Israel of a provocation. "Firing at Syrian citizens in the demilitarized zone constitutes a violation of the disengagement accord and an unjustified provocation," a Syrian spokesman said Wednesday.

An Israeli military spokeswoman insisted Thursday that the incident occurred on the Israeli side of the line and "the first shot was fired by the Syrians."

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