DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria said Monday that Israel’s plans to double the number of settlers living in Israeli-annexed Golan Heights are “dangerous and unprecedented” and only perpetuate its occupation of the territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday 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.
The U.S. recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan in 2019. Rest of the international community considers the area to be Israeli-occupied.
“Syria strongly condemns the dangerous and unprecedented escalation from the Israeli occupation forces in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and its persistence in settlement policies and grave and methodological violations that rise to the level of war crimes,” a Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said.
The statement said the Syrian government 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.”
Entrenching Israeli control over the territory would complicate any future attempt to forge peace with Syria.
Bennett made his announcement during a special Cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights. His office said the government would i nvest some 1 billion shekels (over $300 million) into developing the Golan, including the establishment of two new settlements.
Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the territory. Bennett stated that Israel’s control over the Golan Heights was more appealing to international allies because of Syria’s decade-long conflict. He also said the alternatives would have been much worse.
Some 50,000 people live in the Golan Heights — roughly half of them Jewish Israelis and half in Druze Arab villages that formerly were part of Syria. The Druze people are against Israeli control.