The Arab-Israeli war that began 20 years ago today was a watershed in Mideast history. Fearing attack from hostile neighbors, Israel launched a preemptive strike. Within six days, Israel occupied territories that more than doubled the amount of land under its control, bringing under its rule 1 million more Palestinians. At first, Israelis wanted to trade the territory for peace. But as time passed, some asserted a biblical claim to the land, and Arab bitterness at the occupation deepened. Today, Jewish settlement on the West Bank is growing, and prospects for peace seem more elusive than ever.

Israeli-occupied Arab lands

In 1967, Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. It immediately annexed Arab East Jerusalem, drawing international condemnation. Arab nations refused to recognize or to negotiate with Israel. Without direct talks, Israel responded, it would continue to occupy the lands. Today many Israelis regard the territories as essential to the country's security.

Some 1.3 million Palestinians live under Israeli military rule, including thousands in 30 refugee camps. Various Israeli governments have encouraged Jewish settlement in occupied territory. Today, the presence of some 60,000 settlers on the West Bank complicates the issue of exchanging land for peace.

Gaza Strip. One of the most densely populated areas in the world, tiny, 140-square-mile Gaza has some 525,000 Palestinian residents, most living in refugee camps. The population is growing rapidly.

West Bank. Some 800,000 Palestinians live here. About 46 percent are under age 14 and have known only Israeli occupation and military control. By some accounts, Israel had appropriated as much as 52 percent of West Bank land by 1985. Restrictions have been imposed on use of lands still in Palestinian hands. Some Palestinians have prospered, because of jobs in Israel or remittances from family working in Arab nations, but the West Bank economy has become subordinate to Israel's.

Golan Heights. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan, where Syrian guns had previously overlooked northern Israel. The annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights has not been recognized by other nations.

Sinai Peninsula

It took Israel three days to capture the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in the 1967 war. It took 15 years of diplomatic initiatives and another Arab-Israeli war before the area was restored to Egypt.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. After a cease-fire, Israel and Egypt signed two disengagement agreements, and a UN buffer zone was created in the Sinai.

After Anwar Sadat's historic 1977 visit to Jerusalem, diplomatic prospects perked up. Under the insistent encouragement of then-US President Jimmy Carter, two agreements were reached in 1978. The first, ``A Framework for Peace in the Middle East,'' envisaged a five-year transition during which West Bank and Gaza residents would obtain autonomy and self-rule.

The second agreement provided for the eventual signing of the 1979 Camp David peace treaty. Israel undertook a phased withdrawal from the Sinai that was completed in April 1982.

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