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The BBC's Barbara Plett
Mr Sharaa's comments were upbeat and optimistic"
 real 28k

Monday, 13 December, 1999, 07:02 GMT
Golan settlers dig in

Settlement opening at Katzrin was brought forward in protest at negotiations

Defiant Jewish settlers on the Golan Heights are stepping up their campaign to keep the area under Israeli control.

Middle East
The protests come ahead of peace negotiations with Syria which are due to resume in Washington on Wednesday.

Settlers plan to demonstrate outside the Israeli parliament on Monday, a day after the hurried inauguration of a new development of 390 homes near Katzrin, the main Jewish settlement on the Golan.

About 17,000 settlers live on the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

The escalated campaign follows a very positive Syrian analysis of the prospects for peace which came from Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa on Sunday.

We think we can achieve genuine results within a short time if all the parties have the good intentions
Farouk al-Sharaa

"I am so optimistic to say that a few months could be enough to reach a peace agreement," Mr Sharaa said, in the first Syrian reaction to the resumption of talks.

"I think this is a very important moment in the history of the peace process. We think we can achieve genuine results within a short time if all the parties have the good intentions."

Mr Sharaa will lead the Syrian negotiating team in Washington next week. Across the table will be the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, who called off Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting because he was suffering from the flu.

Shouldering the cost

Israel has warned that it will be unable to fund the full cost of any pull-out from the Golan, with the necessary relocation of 17,000 settlers.

Sharaa will negotiate with Israeli PM Ehud Barak
Finance Minister Abraham Shohat indicated that Israel was hoping the United States would help foot the bill.

"I have no doubt the Americans know that a process of this type requires removing military infrastructure, including warning stations, and will cost a lot of money," Mr Shohat said.

He did not put a price tag on the withdrawal, but a leading Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, said treasury officials were estimating a bill of up to $18bn - $10bn of that in compensation to Golan settlers for losing their homes.

In the past, Washington has often picked up the tab for implementing peace agreements in the Middle East. Most recently, the Wye Plantation agreement - signed in October 1989 but implemented nearly a year later - was backed by money from the US.

Referendum on withdrawal

Opinion polls indicate the Israeli public is deeply divided over the question of handing back the Golan Heights.

A poll by the Gallup organisation shows 46% against a handover as part of a deal which includes an Israeli troop withdrawal from Lebanon, and 46% in favour.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has pledged to hold a referendum on any peace deal that is signed with the Syrians.

Late on Sunday night, Israel radio reported that Mr Barak had held a strategy meeting with ministers from his Labour party on how to organise the referendum.

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Israel divided over Golan Heights
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Historic opportunity for peace
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Careful words to kick-start talks
09 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Albright: 2000 'year of peace'
03 Sep 99 |  Israel elections
Israel: History of conflict

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