Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, France administered Syria until its independence in 1946. The country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decades. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic, but in September 1961 the two entities separated and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the Socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawite sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel, and over the past decade Syria and Israel have held occasional peace talks over its return. Following the death of President al-ASAD in July 2000, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum. Syrian troops - stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role - were withdrawn in April of 2005.