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Shock in Middle East at Trump's Golan 'recognition' tweet

Netanyahu, US Senator Graham and US Israel Ambassador Friedman at the Golan Heights [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 March, 2019

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Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia have rejected President Trump's sudden announcement that it is time to recognise the illegal Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.
The Syrian regime and Turkey are among a number of countries to rebuke President Donald Trump's abrupt declaration that Washington will recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In a statement on Friday, Damascus said Trump's declaration that it was "high time for the US to recognise Israeli claims to the Syrian Golan Heights as "irresponsible" and a threat to international peace and stability.

President Trump said in a tweet on Thursday that he is ready to recognise the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights - deemed illegal under international law.

The foreign ministry in Damascus said Trump's comments confirm "the blind bias of the United States to the Zionist entity", referring to Israel. It added that Trump's statement won't change "the fact that the Golan was and will remain Arab and Syrian".

The ministry also said Damascus is now more intent on liberating the Golan, "using every possible means".

This claim has been widely derided by anti-regime activists. Although they strongly oppose Trump's claim to the Golan, they pointed out that no attempts have been made to reclaim the territories under Bashar al-Assad's rule, who is instead embroiled in a brutal war against political and military opponents in the country.

Trump's announcement the day before was a major shift in US policy and gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a political boost a month before what is expected to be a close election. President Netanyahu has tweeted his thanks to President Trump.

The administration has been considering recognising Israel's sovereignty over the strategic highlands for some time and Netanyahu had pressed the matter with visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week.


Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, after illegally seizing the territory from Syria after the 1967 war.

The UN Security Council Resolution 497, issued after the annexation, refers to Israel as "the occupying power" and says Israel's attempt to "impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null-and-void and without international legal effect".

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Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit criticised the American stance, saying it "comes outside the international legitimacy and no country, no matter how important it is, can make such a decision".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Trump's "unfortunate" declaration has brought the region "to the brink of a new crisis and new tensions".

"We will never allow the legitimisation of the occupation of the Golan Heights," Erdogan added.

Russia's foreign ministry said on Friday that a change in the status of the Golan Heights would be a direct violation of UN decisions, RIA news agency said in a report citing ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Iran, an ally of the Syrian regime along with Russia, called the sudden change in US policy "illegal and unacceptable".

The US will be the first country to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which the rest of the international community regards as territory occupied by Israel whose status should be determined by negotiations between Israel and Syria. Attempts to bring Israel and Syria to the table have failed.

Jordan has previously rejected the Israeli presence in the Golan Heights, describing the area as "occupied Syrian territory", and demanded Israel withdraw its forces. 

Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now leads the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he "strongly disagreed" with President Trump and that the decision would violate a UN Security Council resolution "which rules out acquiring territory by war", the BBC reported.  

The Israeli Policy Forum, an organisation behind a two-state solution welcomed the move but questioned the timing: "Coming so close to Israel's elections, this appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to bolster Prime Minister Netanyahu's re-election efforts rather than a move whose timing is dictated by pure policy considerations."

Americans for Peace Now condemned the shift, saying it could open the door for the annexing of the West Bank.  

In 2017, Trump also broke with the international community by announcing Washington's recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, rather than the previously accepted Tel Aviv.

He pledged to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a move that sparked protests across the Arab world.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first high-ranking American official to visit the Western Wall with an Israeli prime minister on Thursday.

His visit to Israel is seen as a boost to Binyamin Netanyahu's re-election campaign, where he has allied himself with a number of far-right parties.

It was not immediately clear how a UN peacekeeping force that is in place in the Golan - whose mandate expires at the end of June - might be affected by the US move.

There had been signals that a U.S. decision was coming. Last week, in its annual human rights report, the State Department dropped the phrase "Israeli-occupied" from the Golan Heights section, instead calling it "Israeli-controlled."

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