Saturday, January 03, 2004

Golan grab?
Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is denying that the Israeli government has approved a plan to double the population in the occupied Golan Heights. According to Ha'aretz, he told the BBC's Hard Talk program:

"There is no program, there is no policy, there is no expansion of Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights," Olmert told the BBC.

"He [Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, who announced the decision] may have declared something... but in terms of the government policy... there is no such approved program..."

The statement comes amid mild hopes that Syria and Israel might resume negotiations on the Golan. While the prospect of serious talks still looks far away, the Syrians and Lebanese are "coordinating". As the Daily Star reported today:

A series of meetings will be held between Syrian and Lebanese officials in the next few days to pave the way for a possible meeting of the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council in the next few months. The meetings are apparently intended to reinforce the image of complete cooperation between the two countries.

The article suggests the reason for this is increasing American pressure on Syria through the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. However, it is quite possible that it is also, and perhaps mainly, linked to the prospect of progress in talks with Israel. If such talks resume, Syria is very keen to keep a tight rein on Lebanon.

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