Trump's stance on occupied Syrian Golan Heights draws regional condemnation

AP , Ahram Online , Friday 22 Mar 2019

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit criticized Trump's announcement the US would recognize Israel's 'sovereignty' over the occupied Syrian land, saying it 'comes outside the international legitimacy'

Israeli-occupied Golan
File photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, right, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, during a visit to the border between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (AP)

From Syria to the Arab League to Russia, Egypt to Turkey and beyond, President Donald Trump's abrupt declaration that Washington will recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights drew strong criticism and condemnation on Friday.

The Syrian government called it "irresponsible'' and a threat to international peace and stability, while Iran's foreign ministry said it plunges the region into a new crisis.

The Foreign Ministry in Damascus said Trump's statement confirms "the blind bias of the United States to the Zionist entity,'' referring to Israel, and added that it 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.''

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

The administration has been considering recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the strategic highlands, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, for some time and Netanyahu had pressed the matter with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week.

Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. The U.N. 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.''

Damascus also said Trump's statement "clearly shows the U.S. disdain to the international legitimacy and violates its resolutions, especially Security Council resolution 497'' while also threatening "international peace and stability.''

The Egyptian foreign ministry issued a statement reaffirming its longstanding position that the Golan Heights are an occupied Arab land and rejecting any recognition of the legitimacy of the 1981 Israeli annexation decision.

"Egypt raeffirms its firm position that the Syrian Golan is an occupied Arab land in accordance with international legitimacy decisions," including UN Security Council resolution 497 of 1981 which rejected Israel’s decision to impose its sovereignty on the territory, the foreign ministry said.

The Israeli decision was "null and lacked international legitimacy," the statement added.

It called on the international community to "respect the resolutions of international legitimacy and the United Nations Charter in regard of the inadmissibility of acquiring land by force,” it added.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Trump's "personal and arbitrary decisions'' plunge the region into a new crisis, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit also criticized 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 legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights,'' Erdogan added. Egypt also issued a statement, saying the Golan is occupied Arab territory and calling for respect for international resolutions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Trump's comments "can destabilize the already fragile situation in the Middle East.''

"The very idea is not helping the goals of the Middle East settlement, quite the other way round,'' he said. "Right now, it's merely a declaration. Let's hope it will stay this way.''

The U.S. 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.

It was not immediately clear how a U.N. peacekeeping force that is in place in the Golan might be affected by the U.S. move. That force's mandate expires at the end of June.

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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