January 1st, 2004

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Зри в корень-2

• JERUSALEM -- Israel disclosed plans to expand Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967. The move infuriated Syria soon after President Bashar Assad proposed reopening peace talks.

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said the aim of the plan was to underscore that the Golan "is an integral part of Israel" before any negotiations for its return demanded by Syria.

A senior official close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denied the plan was a "political message" to rebuff Assad or affect peace talks, insisting "agricultural and tourist development" was the goal.

But Syria saw it as a maneuver to make Israel's control over the strategic plateau irreversible.

Israel's main daily, Yedioth Aharonoth, said the $62 million plan would double the settler population in the Golan, currently 18,000, within three years. But an Agriculture Ministry spokesman said 900 families would be settled, an increase of about one third.