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Israel Denies Report It Plans to Expand Golan Settlements

The Israeli government has denied reports that it approved plans for the construction of new settlements on the Golan Heights.

“There is no approval for the construction of new communities,” said a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Any step to build a new community requires a decision by the government, and no discussion of this sort is imminent.”

The denial came after the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported on the planned construction of some 900 housing units in three new Golan settlements.

According to the newspaper, lands were already being prepared for construction by Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, with the knowledge of Netanyahu.

The paper said the project was the initiative of the Golan regional council, which set a goal of adding 2,500 new homes on the Golan by the year 2000.

Golan council leaders said that after the initial reports, they were inundated with calls from dozens of young couples who were interested in the project, which would enable them to build sizeable homes with the help of attractive government grants and loans.

Syria’s official press reacted sharply to the reports, accusing Israel of pushing the region toward war.

The state-run Tishrin daily said, “Israel’s moves to build more settlements and to bring thousands of Israelis to the Golan shows that Israel, under Netanyahu and the extremist rabbis and generals, is deliberately trying to escalate tension in the region.”

Syria has demanded the full return of the Golan Heights as a condition for a peace treaty with Israel.

Netanyahu has countered that Israel will not accept any preconditions from resuming the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, which were broken off in March after Syria refused to condemn a series of Hamas suicide bombings launched at the time in Israel.

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