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Israel plans to double the settlement in the Golan Heights

Associated Press

Posted on Dec 26, 2021 9:21 AM EST

Last updated Sunday, Dec 26, 2021 9:21 AM EST

MEVO HAMA, Golan Heights ( Associated Press) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday that the country intends to double the number of settlers living in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights with a multi-million dollar plan aimed at further strengthening Israeli influence in the territory it operates … captured from Syria more than five decades ago.

Bennett said the new investment in the region was prompted by the Trump administration’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the land and a directive to the Biden administration that it would not be challenging the decision soon.

“This is our moment. This is the moment of the Golan Heights, ”Bennett said at a special cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights. “After long and static years in terms of the scale of a settlement, our goal today is to double the population in the Golan Heights.”

Bennett’s office said the government is investing about 1 billion shekels (more than $ 300 million) in the development of the Golan, including the creation of two new settlements, as well as investments in tourism, industry, clean energy and technology that will create several thousand jobs.

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Strengthening Israeli control over the territory will complicate any future attempt to establish peace with Syria, which claims the Golan Heights.

Israel captured the Golan Heights during the 1967 Middle East War and then annexed the area, promoting settlement and agriculture, and creating a thriving local tourism industry. The United States was the first country to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, which the rest of the international community considers to be occupied by Israel.

Bennett said the ten-year war in Syria made the idea of ​​Israeli control over territory more acceptable to his international allies, adding that the alternative would be much worse.

Israel has long argued that a strategically important area for all practical purposes has been fully integrated into Israel since it was annexed from Syria, and that control of the strategic plateau is necessary as a defense against Iran and its allies in Syria.

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The Golan Heights is home to about 50,000 people – roughly half of Israelis and half of the Druze villages that were formerly part of Syria. Some of the Druze oppose the control of Israel. Israel’s development plan aims to double the Jewish population in the coming years.

Shortly after the announcement, Bennett’s office said it had been notified that his daughter had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the Israeli leader to leave the cabinet meeting and go into self-isolation at home.

Bennett’s office said he had a negative rapid test before the meeting and that Bennett’s 14-year-old daughter had been vaccinated.

Israeli Education Minister Ifat Shasha-Biton missed Sunday’s meeting due to her daughter’s test positive for COVID-19. Her office said she went into self-isolation while awaiting coronavirus test results.

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