Syria denounces Israeli plans to double settler numbers in the Golan Heights

Israel's Cabinet has approved a scheme to build about 7,300 housing units on land captured in 1967

Israeli soldiers look towards Syria across the border. The US recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan in 2019. The rest of the international community regards the territory as occupied. Photo: Reuters

Syria has condemned Israeli plans to double the number of Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights over the next five years.

Syrian state media on Monday described the decision as a “dangerous and unprecedented escalation”.

The country's Foreign Ministry said Damascus remains committed to the Syrians living in the Golan “who are steadfast in their resistance to the Israeli occupation and their rejection of the decision to annex the Golan”.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday announced a multimillion-dollar plan meant to double the number of settlers living in the region that Israel captured from Syria more than five decades ago.

Israel's Cabinet approved a blueprint to build about 7,300 additional housing units on the strategic plateau in a move that could tighten its grip on the territory.

“Syria strongly condemns the dangerous and unprecedented escalation by the Israeli occupation authorities”, the state-run Sana news agency said. It added that Damascus would use all legally available means to retake the territory.

Speaking to Syrian TV station Al Ekhbariya, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called Israel's actions against Syria “criminal” and said they broke UN Resolution 497 that declared Israel's effective annexation of the Golan as “null and void”.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it describes as Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces, including Lebanon's Hezbollah, have supported President Bashar Al Assad in Syria's war.

Israel annexed the 1,200-square kilometre Golan Heights in 1981, an action not recognised by the international community. Syria demands the return of the Golan, which also overlooks Lebanon and borders Jordan.

The US recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan in 2019. The rest of the international community regards the territory as occupied.

Entrenching Israeli control over the Golan would complicate any future attempt to forge peace with Syria.

About 50,000 people live in the Golan Heights – roughly half of them Jewish Israelis. The remaining half are in Druze Arab villages that formerly were part of Syria. Some of the Druze population opposes Israeli control.

Updated: December 28th 2021, 12:14 PM