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Israel approves plan to double population of settlers in occupied Golan Heights

An Israeli tank with a flag overlooking the Syrian town of Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli has approved a plan to double the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied Golan Heights, four decades after the occupying regime annexed the territory captured from Syria.

“After many static years regarding the scope of community life, our goal today is to double the population of the Golan Heights,” the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said on Sunday as he presented his one billion shekel ($317 million) program to build settler units and facilities in the occupied region.

Right-wing Bennett, who had held his weekly cabinet meeting at the Mevo Hama community in the occupied Golan, vowed that this was the “moment” to increase the number of settlers living in the territory, where some 25,000 Israeli settlers live.

He went on to say that two new neighborhoods are to be built in the town of Katzrin plus two new settlements, named Asif and Matar, adding that the plan aimed to build a total of 7,300 settler units in the region over a five-year period.

Bennett also claimed that after a decade of conflict in Syria, international calls to restore Syrian control of the Golan were muted, adding, "Every knowledgeable person in the world understands that it is preferable to have Israeli heights that are quiet, flourishing and green as opposed to the alternative."

The plan will bring roughly 23,000 new Israeli settlers to the occupied region.

In 1967, Israel waged a full-scale war against Arab territories, during which it occupied a large swathe of Golan and annexed it four years later, a move never recognized by the international community.

In 1973, another war broke out and a year later, a UN-brokered ceasefire came into force, according to which Tel Aviv and Damascus agreed to separate their troops and create a buffer zone in the Heights.

Israel has over the past decades built dozens of settlements in the Golan Heights in defiance of international calls for the regime to stop its illegal construction activities.

Syria has repeatedly reaffirmed its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, saying the territory must be completely restored to its control, while the United Nations, for its part, has time and again emphasized Syria's sovereignty over the territory.

In March 2019, former American president Donald Trump, widely viewed as pro-Israeli, however, controversially signed a decree recognizing Israeli “sovereignty” over the Golan Heights during a meeting with then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.

Bennett on Sunday also described as the “important” fact that US President Joe Biden's administration had “made it clear that there is no change in policy” adopted by Trump regarding the occupied region.

This is while that Trump's declaration has been condemned by the rest of the international community as under international law, the region is still considered Syrian territory occupied by Israel.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under the international law as they are built on occupied territories. The UN Security Council has condemned Israel’s settlement activities in several resolutions.

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