Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Syria asks UN council to uphold resolutions on Golan

Arab League chief says US president's endorsement of Israeli occupation is "outside international legitimacy'

The village of Bukata in the Golan Heights, an area Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. AP
The village of Bukata in the Golan Heights, an area Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. AP

Syria on Friday asked the UN Security Council to uphold resolutions declaring that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights after President Donald Trump said the United States would recognise Israel's annexation of the territory.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari urged the council to "take practical measures to ensure that the council is fulfilling ... its mandate in the implementation of its resolutions" concerning the Golan, in a letter seen by AFP.

The council is scheduled to discuss the Golan on Wednesday during a meeting on renewing the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force deployed between Israel and Syria in the Golan, known as UNDOF.

Syria's allies Russia and Iran criticised Mr Trump for his comment on Thursday, which marks a dramatic shift in US policy over the status of a disputed area that was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 in a move not recognised by the international community.

Mr Trump's statement showed "the blind bias of the United States" towards Israel, Syrian state media cited a foreign ministry source as saying on Friday.

It did not change "the reality that the Golan was and will remain Syrian, Arab", the source said.

"The Syrian nation is more determined to liberate this precious piece of Syrian national land through all available means," the source said, adding that Mr Trump's statement was "irresponsible" and showed "contempt" for international law.

The Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights.

Iran said the statement was illegal and unacceptable, and Russia said a change in the status of the Golan Heights would be a direct violation of UN resolutions.

"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognise Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!" Mr Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Both Iran and Russia have sent forces into Syria to support President Bashar Al Assad against an uprising against his rule. Iran has sent both its own forces and also allied regional Shiite militias such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

"This illegal and unacceptable recognition does not change the fact that it belongs to Syria," an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman was cited as saying by state TV.

Mr Trump's stance was also criticised by Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who said 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 Mr Trump's "unfortunate" declaration had 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," he said.

Israel is increasingly concerned about the approach of Iran-linked forces as President Al Assad reasserts control over formerly rebel-held areas in southern Syria, and its military has already carried strikes on Iranian targets near Damascus and other areas in the country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Mr Trump for supporting his country's claim to the Golan, saying it came "at a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel".

Mr Trump's comment came as the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was visiting Israel on the second stop of a three-nation tour to the region. In remarks before dinner with Mr Netanyahu on Thursday, Mr Pompeo described the decision as "bold" and "important".

Mr Pompeo was reportedly given Israeli intelligence briefings on efforts by Hezbollah to establish positions in Syrian-controlled parts of the Golan from which to threaten Israel.

Mr Netanyahu has pressed the United States to recognise its claim to the Golan and raised the possibility in his first White House meeting with Mr Trump in February 2017.

Mr Trump's statement supporting Israeli sovereignty gives Mr Netanyahu a boost as he campaigns for another term in elections to be held next month. The Israeli PM is also scheduled to visit the White House next week.

The shift in the US stance on the Golan was signalled in its latest Global Human Rights Report, released this week, which described the area as "Israeli-controlled" rather than "Israeli-occupied".

Updated: March 23, 2019 02:34 AM

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