[News] Israel to double settlers in Golan Heights

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 31 09:10:14 EST 2003

Israel to double settlers in Golan Heights

Wednesday 31 December 2003 6:09 AM GMT

Israel intends to double the number of Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights 
over the next three years to tighten its grip over the plateau, seized from 
Syria in a 1967 war.

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the 
right-wing cabinet had agreed to double the current settler population of 
17,000 to solidify its hold over the Golan before opening any peace 
negotiations with Syria.

Syria on Wednesday denounced the Israeli plan which stipulates the 
construction of 900 new homes on the strategic plateau.

Isa Daweesh, Syria's deputy foreign minister, told reporters in Damascus: 
"There is no recognition for this measure. Israel is deluded that it can 
achieve something by relying on power and occupation."

Asked if Israel's move was a step to preempt any future peace negotiations 
between the two countries, he said: "Conflicts are not resolved through 
power, they should be resolved under international law."

French reaction

Responding to the Israeli announcement, France urged the Jewish state to 
immediately abandon its plans.

"The approval by an Israeli interministerial commission of the
extension of Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights can only
complicate" the resumption of talks between Israel and Syria, said foreign 
ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous on Wednesday.

"France thus immediately calls on Israel not to implement these plans and 
not to take any other decisions that could compromise the peace process," 
Ladsous told reporters.

The Palestinian factor

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, like his late long-ruling father Hafiz 
al-Asad, has demanded a total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in exchange 
for peace and has urged Washington to help revive talks with Israel that 
collapsed in early 2000.

"The government decision is a response to the initiative of Syria, which 
said it is interested in peace while openly supporting Palestinian terror," 
Katz told Israel's largest daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

Senior Israeli Labour MP Haim Ramon charged that "the only goal of the 
(settlement) plan was to torpedo any chance of new negotiations with Syria."

Katz himself admitted to the radio: "One of my goals is also to
make sure Asad wakes up every morning to watch a thriving Israeli Golan 
from his presidential palace."

Syria denies the Israeli charge, saying Palestinian armed groups with a 
presence in Damascus have information offices

The Heights

Israel conquered the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed 
it in 1981, a move condemned internationally.

Israel and Syria have no diplomatic relations and remain in a technical 
state of war. However, the Golan Heights has been relatively violence free 
in the past decades, in contrast with the frequents attacks and retaliation 
from both sides in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Golan is a grassy plateau with important wells and springs as well as 
being of strategic value, as it overlooks northeastern Israel including the 
Sea of Galilee, a major tourist draw.

Right-wing ministers in Israel's cabinet fiercely oppose any
negotiations over the territory. Katz, the plan's initiator and head of the 
cabinet's settlement committee, told Israel Radio: "It is good for everyone 
to know that Israel has no intention to loosen its hold on the Golan, but 
exactly the opposite."

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