OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, 11 July — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for expansion of Jewish settlements on the Golan Heights during a visit yesterday to the strategic plateau.
“Only through developing the Golan, expanding the Jewish population, expanding the settlements and bringing in new residents...will we be able to turn the settlement of the Golan to a reality that cannot be reversed,” he told residents.
Sharon’s predecessor Ehud Barak was reportedly prepared to return the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a final peace deal. But peace negotiations deadlocked in January last year, apparently due to a disagreement over a narrow strip of land at the foot of the heights near the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main water source.
Around 17,000 Jewish settlers live on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 conflict.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Legislative Council urged foreign parliaments yesterday to help end “Israeli threats” against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and condemned Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes.
The council urged parliaments across the world to take action in order to stop “the Israeli leadership’s policy of threats against the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority and its leader Yasser Arafat.”
Over the past few days, press reports and Israeli officials have mentioned a plot to politically eliminate Arafat, by expelling him from the Palestinian territories.
Arafat said yesterday the Palestinians would seek international action to stop the “crime” of Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes.
“This is a new crime that the Israeli soldiers have committed,” Arafat said on his arrival in West Bank from Jordan following the destruction of dozens of homes in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem.
“We will seek Arab and international efforts to stop these crimes,” he said.
Israeli Army bulldozers demolished 26 Palestinian houses at the flash point Gaza-Egypt border yesterday, leaving dozens homeless and touching off a gunbattle with the Palestinians. Five Palestinians were wounded.
As the bulldozers came, dozens of Palestinians fled the dwellings before the houses were reduced to piles of rubble.
Returning when the dust had settled, people picked through the debris searching for their belongings. Women wept, wondering aloud where they would now find shelter. “We heard the tanks rolling and we saw the bulldozer from the balcony,” said Mona Qeshta, whose four-story home was destroyed. Twelve stores were also destroyed.
The United States, Britain and the European Union condemned Israel for demolishing the houses of Palestinians. The United States condmened Israel’s bulldozings of Palestinian homes as “highly provocative” and said it had asked for them to be stopped.