Israel: Drilling for oil begins in Golan Heights

- Afek Oil and Gas plans to explore up to 10 wells in area occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.

ANKARA (AA) -- Drilling for oil has begun in the south of the Golan Heights, U.S. oil exploration firm Genie Energy said in statement on Monday. 

In September 2014, Afek Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Genie Energy, initially won the Israeli government's approval for oil drilling on 153 square miles (400 km sq.) of the Golan Heights.

The company's three year license allows for conventional oil exploration to a maximum of 10 wells in the south of the occupied Golan Heights, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The area, at one time Syrian territory, was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and was annexed in 1981. The move sparked criticism of Israel as the annexation of the Golan Heights into Israeli territory is not internationally recognized.

Drilling was planned for mid-January but was delayed several times due to environmental opposition. The Israeli High Court issued an order for the temporary cessation of the Golan Heights drilling operations, to give the state more time to respond to a petition from environmentalists. However, the order was overturned and the petitions were dismissed on December 23.

The Golan Heights is home to Lake Tiberias, Israel's main water source and internationally recognized as an area of natural beauty.

Genie Energy is run by Effi Eitam, a 60-year-old former right wing Israeli Cabinet minister. He currently resides in Golan Heights.

Israel has also discovered two natural gas fields near the northern city of Haifa; the Tamar field with an estimated capacity of 280 billion cubic meters, and the bigger Leviathan field, with an estimated 530 billion cubic meters capacity. 

Tamar started production in March 2013, while the Leviathan field is due to start operating in 2016 or 2017.

Following the Six-Day War, the UN Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted to establish principles for setting Israeli borders and withdrawal from territories conquered in 1967, including the Golan Heights. The resolution called for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories.

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