Israel authorized the shipment of truckloads of apples from the occupied Golan Heights to Syria on Tuesday in a rare move that will see 8,000 tons of fruit grown in the area exported to the Arab state.
"An apple transfer through the demarcation line between the occupied Golan and Syria proper is no every day event," the International Committee of the Red Cross, which organized the operation, said in a statement.
"The ICRC is acting in its capacity as a neutral intermediary at the request of the farmers of the occupied Golan and with the approval of the Syrian and Israeli authorities," the humanitarian organization said in a statement.
"We hope this operation will help create an environment conducive to raising other humanitarian concerns, for example the fact that family members separated by the demarcation line cannot cross the gates to maintain family ties," said Jean-Jacques Fresard, who heads the ICRC delegation in Syria.
The first shipments went through the Kuneitra crossing on Tuesday morning, a military spokesman said. The transfer of the apples is expected to take between six and eight weeks, and marks the fourth time the ICRC has conducted such an operation.
The Golan Heights is a rich agricultural area and apple production is a main source of income for Syrian farmers in the Golan, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.
More than 18,000 Syrians, mostly from the Druze sect, an offshoot of Islam, are left from the Golan's original population of 150,000. The vast majority of the Druze have refused to take Israeli citizenship.
The plateau which overlooks much of northern Israel is also home to nearly 20,000 Jewish settlers.
Despite a 1949 armistice agreement, the two neighbors remain technically at a state of war.
In January, Syria protested to the United Nations about what it called Israel's illegal use of produce from the occupied Golan Heights after Israel distributed wine made from grapes grown in the territory as year-end holiday gifts to U.N. staff.