December 31, 2003
Israel Wishes Syria "Happy New Year"

Israel plans a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights, the government confirmed Wednesday. The announcement angered Syria, from which Israel seized the territory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The plan, approved two weeks ago, comes just two months after the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, called for renewed peace talks between his country and Israel.

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Government officials said the expansion plan had been in the works for months and denied that its approval was intended as a response to Mr. Assad's vague proposal, made during an interview with The New York Times. Mr. Assad said in the interview that he wished to resume talks, broken off nearly three years ago, on returning the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for security guarantees to Israel.

But the Israeli agriculture minister, Yisrael Katz, who heads the government's settlement committee, told Israeli radio and television on Wednesday that the plan was meant to send Mr. Assad the message that "the Golan is an inseparable part of the State of Israel, and we have no intention to give up our hold."

Posted by tstubbs at December 31, 2003 11:30 PM
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