Israel approves plan to double settlers in occupied Golan Heights

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Israel approves plan to double settlers in occupied Golan Heights

Israel’s government on Sunday approved a $317 million plan to double the Jewish settler population in the Golan Heights, 40 years after it annexed the territory captured from Syria.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s cabinet voted in favour of the plan that aims to build 7,300 settler homes in the region over a five-year period, during a meeting held at the Mevo Hama community in the Golan.

It calls for 1 billion Israeli shekels to be spent on housing, infrastructure and other projects with the goal of attracting roughly 23,000 new Jewish settlers to the area, seized during the 1967 Six Day War.

“Our goal today is to double the population of the Golan Heights,” the right-wing Bennett said ahead of the meeting.

Bennett said the recognition by the Trump administration of Israeli sovereignty over the swath of land, and the Biden administration’s indication that it will not at this point walk that decision back, prompted the new investment in the region.

Entrenching Israeli control over the territory would complicate any future attempt to forge peace with Syria, which claims the Golan Heights.

Israel occupied the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the territory, promoting settlement and agriculture there as well as creating a thriving local tourism industry.

The US was the first country to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, which the rest of the international community regards as Israeli-occupied.

“The Golan Heights are Israeli. This is self-evident,” Bennett said.

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

Tens of thousands of Israelis live in the Golan Heights, which is also home to a number of formerly Syrian Druze villages, some of which oppose Israeli control.

Palestinians, Israeli forces clash in West Bank

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians in the West Bank in an area that has seen a recent uptick in friction, the Israeli military and Palestinian medics said.

The clashes on Saturday were part of days of tension in the area surrounding a West Bank settlement outpost and a spike in violence elsewhere in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

During the clashes, the military said, hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and burned tires and shots were fired in the area. The military said forces responded with live fire and “riot dispersal means,” typically tear gas and stun grenades.

The military also said shots were fired from a passing vehicle toward a military post near the West Bank city of Nablus, which is south of Homesh. It was not clear if the shooting was related to the clashes.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 10 people were wounded by live fire. The Palestinian Health Ministry said one of them, a 17-year-old, was seriously wounded. Dozens of others were wounded by rubber bullets.

A soldier was lightly wounded, the military said.

Homesh, in the northern West Bank, was dismantled as part of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

But in recent years, Israeli settlers have returned to pray and established an unauthorised outpost at the site.

Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the territories are now home to over 700,000 Israel settlers.

Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements illegal obstacles to peace.

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