Quneitra, Kuneitra, Al Qunaytirah or Qunaitira was once a bustling town in the Golan Heights and southwestern Syria's administrative capital with a population of 37,000 but it was completely destroyed by Israel during the 1973 War. It is situated in a high valley in the Golan Heights at an elevation of 1,010 metres above sea level. Quneitra was founded in the Ottoman era as a way station on the caravan route to
and subsequently became a garrison town of some 20,000 people, strategically located near the border with Israel. The word Quneitra derives from Qantara, or 'bridge', between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine.
On 10 June 1967, the last day of the Six-Day War, Quneitra was occupied by Israel. It was briefly recaptured by
during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but Israel regained control in its subsequent counter-offensive. The city was almost completely and systematically destroyed by the Israeli army before the Israeli withdrawal in June 1974 (
UN General Assembly resolution 3240
in 1974 condemned Israel's role in its destruction). Quneitra now lies in the demilitarized United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Zone between
and Israel, a short distance from the de facto border between the two countries. Israel was heavily criticized by the United Nations for the city's destruction, while Israel has criticized Syria for not rebuilding Quneitra. Many prominent Western reporters, agreeing with the UN and Syrian version of events, saw this as nothing short of an act of wanton brutality — a whole town methodically ransacked, dynamited, and bulldozed.
Quneitra is known for its abundant water resources, it has been continuously inhabited since the Stone Age. Over the millennia, many peoples, including Arameans, Assyrians, Caldeans, Persians, Greeks, and Arabs have occupied it. St. Paul, it is said, passed through Quneitra on his way from
The surrounding area of Quneitra has been inhabited for millennia. Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers are thought to have lived there, as evidenced by the discovery of Levallois (distinctive type of flint knapping) and Mousterian flint tools in the vicinity. Traces of this have been found at Banat Yacoub bridge and Tell Akkash. It was later occupied by the Amorites, who established their state in 2250 BC. They were succeeded by the Arameans, the Assyrians, Caldeans, and then the Persian and Hellenistic empires. Saint Paul is said to have passed through the settlement on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. The site of the Conversion of Paul was traditionally identified with the small village of Kokab, north-east of Quneitra, on the road to
In 106 AD the Golan was part of the Arab state that was established under the Romans. In 636 AD the battle of Yarmouk took place between the Arabs and the Byzantines who were banished from Syria.
The modern city grew around the nucleus of an Ottoman Caravanserai, which was built using the stones of the ruined ancient settlement. By the 20th century Quneitra had become the administrative centre for the Golan region and a centre of settlement for Muslim Circassians from the Caucasus. During War World I, the Australian Mounted Division and 5th Cavary Division defeated the Ottoman Turks there on September 29, 1918, before they took
Quneitra was taken over in 1967 by the Israelis. In 1973 with the October war, it was taken back into Syrian territory after being completely destroyed by Israel. The city had been systematically stripped by the Israeli forces, with anything movable being removed and sold to Israeli contractors. The empty buildings were subsequently pulled apart with tractors and bulldozers.
Syria has left the ruins of Quneitra in place and built a museum to memorialize its destruction. It maintains billboards at the ruins of many buildings and effectively preserves it in the condition that the Israeli army left it in. The former residents of the town have not returned and Syria discourages the re-population of the area.