Syria dennounces Israeli plans to expand settlements in occupied Golan Heights
Israel intends over the next three years to double the number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied Golan Heights the Yedioth Aharonoth daily reported on Wednesday.
According to the report, which was confirmed by Israel's Agriculture Minister, Yisrael Katz, the government agreed on the plan to solidify its hold over the Golan before renewing peace talks with Syria.
About 17,000 Israelis now live in the occupied area. The newspaper added that a PR campaign to lure more settlers to the Golan Heights would soon be launched.
“The government decision is a response to the initiative by Syria, which said it is interested in peace while openly supporting Palestinian terror," Katz told the newspaper.
Katz, the plan's initiator and head of the cabinet's settlement committee, told Israel Radio on Wednesday: "It is good for everyone to know that Israel has no intention to loosen its hold on the Golan, but exactly the opposite."
Sources close to Katz told Yedioth Aharonoth website: "(The new plan) is a clear message to the Syrian President, Bashar Al Assad, that Israel will continue to build (settlements) in the Golan, so he will be able to see from his palace these settlements flourishing."
Israel Radio said the settlement plan would involve building of 900 homes and other investments worth more than NIS 300 million ($68 million).
On its part, Syria denounced the reported plan. A Syrian spokesman described the new Israeli plan "as part of Sharon government’s anti-peace policy, the forcible Judaization of the occupied lands and turning occupation into a fait accompli under a false cover of desire for peace."
Speaking to SANA, the spokesman said that doubling the number of settlers and the expansion of settlement in the Golan disclose "real Israeli intentions in swallowing up the occupied lands in scorn of the UN resolutions and the recent resolution by its General Assembly which considered Israeli annexation procedures as null and void."
He added that peace contradicts with occupation and with any move to legalize the occupation instead of eliminating it according to the land-for-peace principle. (Albawaba.com)
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