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The Aram of the Old Testament, called Syria in the Septuagint. It became a free Arab republic in 1946, and, with Lebanon, covers most of the northwest horn of the Fertile Crescent. During the Hellenistic period, particularly in the time of Herod the Great (36-4 B.C.E.), a considerable Jewish community gathered in Syria. Jews were accorded equal rights, but in the course of the wars in Israel many were massacred. With the advance of Christianity many Jews were forcibly baptized. The invasion of the Arabs in the 7th century brought Jews greater religious tolerance but placed them in an inferior status. Jews congregated mainly in the large cities, Damascus, the capital, Aleppo, and Tripoli, largely as traders and craftsmen. They numbered about 18,000 but never became a strong cultural community. In 1840, the Syrian Jews suffered the effects of the Damascus blood libel. World Jewry intervened, and rescued the Damascus Jews from mob violence.

Since the Six-Day War, Syrian Jews have suffered constant harassment and persecution officially sponsored by the government and carried out by the police, as a result of which a worldwide movement has been established to help reduce the number of Syrian Jews and bring them out of Syria. As of 1998, hopes that Syria would enter into peace negotiations with Israel have not materialized. In 1982, Israel’s Operation Peace for Galilee sought to challenge and defeat Syria’s pro-PLO military base in Lebanon. Despite a resounding defeat, the Syrians were rearmed by the USSR and were influential in forcing the abrogation of the Israel-Lebanese peace treaty concluded in 1983. In 1984, an unprecedented exchange of Syrian and Israeli prisoners of war occurred when 291 Syrian soldiers and officers were exchanged for six Israelis (three soldiers and three civilians). In 1992 the Syrian government allowed some Jews to leave. By 2006, only 100 Jews remained in Syria.

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