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Syria accuses Israel of assassinating former member of parliament

Medhat al-Saleh, a former parliamentarian who also served in the government's Golan Heights portfolio, has been fatally shot near his family home
Medhat al-Saleh, 54, was released from prison in 1998 after serving 12 years on charges of "resistance" to Israeli authorities (Credit: SANA news agency Twitter)

Syria has accused Israel of assassinating on Saturday a former member of the Syrian parliament who had spent 12 years in Israeli jail, state news agency Sana reported. 

Medhat al-Saleh "was martyred as the Israeli enemy targeted him with fire while returning home" on Saturday, according to Sana. The shooting took place in Ain al-Tineh, a village inside Syria overlooking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights' Majdal Shams.

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Saleh was killed by gunfire, according to reports, though it was not clear if he was shot from an aircraft or from the ground. Locals told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that there had been a heavy presence of helicopters and drones in Majdal Shams on Saturday.

The Syrian government denounced the killing as a "cowardly criminal act".

Israel has declined to comment, with a military spokesperson telling Reuters that the military does not comment on foreign reports.

Saleh, 54, was released from prison in 1998 after serving 12 years on charges of "resistance" to Israeli authorities. He later served in the Syrian parliament. In 2005, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed Saleh to the Golan Heights' portfolio. 

Saleh was a well-known figure in the Golan Heights, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel's takeover led to the expulsion of 131,000 Syrians from the cities of Quneitra and Fiq, as well as some 137 villages and 112 farms in the area, according to official Syrian figures

Israel's plans for occupied Golan Heights

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced plans to build two new illegal settlements that would double Israel's settler populations in the occupied Golan Heights, saying the move was in the name of the "national interest". 

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Currently, only four Syrian villages remain under occupation, where almost 20,000 Syrians from the Druze community are facing numerous Israeli settlement projects, including building wind turbines on their farming lands.

Addressing a conference about the Golan's future, Bennett said that his government would hold a special cabinet meeting on the occupied territory next month.

"The Golan Heights is Israeli, full stop," he said.

He added that Israel would be presenting a plan to double and eventually quadruple the Israeli settler population in the Golan Heights, from almost 27,000 to 50,000, and then increase it to 100,000 settlers. 

"The development of the Golan is in [Israel's] national interest," Bennett said. "It is not enough to say, 'The people are with the Golan,' the government also has to support the Golan."