Israel has granted a United States energy company a licence to drill for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights, in a move that may stir up tension with neighbouring Syria.
The permit allows Genie Oil and Gas exclusive petroleum exploration rights over a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights.
In a statement the company said: “Based on preliminary analysis and interpretation of existing geological data, the newly issued licence area may contain significant quantities of conventional oil and gas in relatively tight formations.”
Ahead of President Obama’s planned visit to Israel next month, the decision has the potential to provoke international outcry.
Reports suggested that the timing of the licence is linked to the civil war in Syria, as the conflict - stricken country is occupied with internal matters.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981, though the occupation is not recognised under international law.
There are estimated to be around 30 Israeli settlements and 20,000 settlers in the Golan Heights area.