Syria denounces Israeli plans to double number of Golan settlers

FILE PHOTO: Fences are seen on the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Syria on Monday condemned Israeli plans to double within five years the number of Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights captured from Syria in 1967 as a “dangerous and unprecedented escalation,” Syrian state media reported.

Israel’s cabinet approved a blueprint on Sunday to build some 7,300 additional housing units on the strategic plateau in a move that could tighten its hold on the territory.

“Syria strongly condemns the dangerous and unprecedented escalation by the Israeli occupation authorities” in the Golan, the state-run SANA news agency said, adding Damascus would seek to 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 violated the 1981 U.N. Resolution 497 declaring 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 deployed over the last decade to support President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s war.

Israel annexed the 1,200-square-kilometre (460-square-mile) Golan Heights in 1981, an action not recognized by the international community. Syria demands the return of the Golan, which also overlooks Lebanon and borders Jordan.

(Reporting by Omar FahmyAdditional reporting by Lilian Wagdy Writing by Ahmad Elhamy in Cairo and Timour Azhari in Beirut; Editing by Howard Goller)

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