DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria said Monday that Israel’s plans to double the number of people living in Golan Heights are “dangerous and unprecedented” and only perpetuate its control over the annexed territory.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced a multimillion-dollar plan on Sunday meant to double the number of Israelis living in the region that Israel captured from Syria more than five decades ago.
Only the United States recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which the rest of the international community regards as part of Syria.
“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 Heights “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 could complicate any future attempt to reach a peace agreement with Syria.
Bennett made his announcement during a special cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights. His office said the government would invest some 1 billion shekels (over $300 million) into developing the Golan, including the establishment of two new communities.
The prime minister first announced the plan in October, saying that the ultimate goal was to reach 100,000 residents in the coming years.
Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed the territory. Bennett said Syria’s decade-long civil war made the idea of Israeli control of the territory more acceptable to its international allies, adding that the alternative would be much worse.
The prime minister noted the recognition of former US president Donald Trump’s administration of Israeli control of the Golan Heights, and “the fact that the Biden administration has made it clear that there is no change in this policy.”
In 2019, a new town, named Trump Heights, was inaugurated on the Golan to honor Trump’s recognition.
Currently, some 53,000 people live in the Golan Heights: 27,000 Jews, 24,000 Druze, and some 2,000 Alawites (an ethnoreligious group originating from Shia Islam and a minority sect to which Syria’s ruling family, the Assads, belong). Some of the Druze population opposes Israeli control.