The Syrian government on Friday condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, saying it flies in the face of international law.
Trump said on Thursday it was time for Washington to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic territory it seized from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
Syria was joined by other countries, including Turkey, Russia and Germany, in condemning the move.
Trump’s abrupt tweet broke with U.N. Security Council resolutions and with more than half a century of U.S. foreign policy treating the Golan as occupied territory whose future would be negotiated in talks with Syria on a comprehensive peace.
The return of the territory has always been a key Syrian national demand, championed by government and rebels alike through the bloody civil war that has torn the country apart since 2011.
The Syrian government said Trump’s comments flagrantly disregarded international law.
“The American position towards Syria’s occupied Golan Heights clearly reflects the United States’ contempt for international legitimacy and its flagrant violation of international law,” a foreign ministry source told the official SANA news agency.
The source said Trump’s comments showed the extent of his administration’s “blind bias” towards Israel.
“The statements of the U.S. president and his administration on the occupied Syrian Golan will never change the fact that the Golan was and will remain Arab and Syrian,” the source said.
Syria’s main opposition grouping too condemned Trump’s comments and said it remained committed to the Golan’s full return.
The Syrian Negotiations Commission stated “its rejection of this decision and its national commitment to Syria’s right to retrieve all its occupied territory.”
Turkey, which hosted the last indirect peace talks between Israel and the Syrian government in 2008, said the abrupt policy change from Washington risked plunging the region into a “new crisis”.
“Trump’s unfortunate statement about the Golan Heights brings the region to the edge of a new crisis,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Any chance the U.S. had to be an effective broker and to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians is "essentially eliminated," says @RichardHaass following President Trump's decision to back Israel's claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights. https://t.co/F3uE7QDxDX pic.twitter.com/bmKqYjAgwT
— Morning Edition (@MorningEdition) March 22, 2019
“We will never allow the occupation of Golan Heights to be made legitimate,” he added.
Turkey was a key supporter of rebels battling to topple President Bashar-al-Assad, but in the past couple of years has worked with his main backers Russian and Iran to bring the conflict to an end.
Germany, another NATO ally of the U.S., also criticized Trump’s move in a tweet from its foreign ministry’s account.
“We have taken note of U.S. President Trump’s Tweet on the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel. The position of Germany and the E.U. on the Golan Heights is unchanged and in line with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions,” the tweet said.
Russia warned that the policy U-turn called for by Trump’s could fan the flames of new conflict in the region.
“Certainly, such appeals can considerably destabilize an already tense situation in the Middle East,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“It’s just a call for now, hopefully it will remain a call,” Peskov told reporters.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted he was “shocked by @realDonaldTrump continuing to try to give what is not his to racist Israel.”
"Israel is not interested in the Golan Heights for security. If it were interested in that, then it wouldn't be settling its civilians there," says Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat (@4noura). She adds, "There is no military threat to Israel from that border." pic.twitter.com/QWMYlOF6WZ
— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) March 22, 2019
In his tweet on Thursday, Trump said the Golan was “of critical strategic and security importance to the state of Israel and regional stability.”
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” he said.
The Arab League said Trump’s comments were “completely outside international law.”
Following a long period of calm along the armistice line on the Golan after the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1973, tensions flared with the eruption of civil war in Syria in 2011.
Israel provided medical assistance to wounded rebel fighters and repeatedly struck government positions in response to stray fire across the ceasefire line.
It also launched a bombing campaign against suspected positions of Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which have both intervened militarily in support of Assad.
Israeli Thank You
Since the Syrian government decisively defeated rebel fighters near the armistice line last year with Iranian and Hezbollah support, Israel has vowed repeatedly to prevent its arch enemies from establishing a long-term military presence.
Trump’s recognition announcement was swiftly welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognises Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” the right-wing prime minister wrote on Twitter. “Thank you President Trump!”
Leon Panetta, a veteran Democrat who served as CIA director and defense secretary, among other roles, blasted Trump for “tweeting out another policy that obviously has not been worked out with our international partners.”
The Golan recognition is only the latest diplomatic bombshell dropped by Trump in seeking to redraw the fraught Middle East map on Israel’s favor.
In 2017, Trump also went against decades of practice in recognizing the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, rather than the previously accepted Tel Aviv.
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A U.N. probe released last month said Israel may have committed crimes against humanity in responding to last year’s unrest in Gaza, as snipers “intentionally” shot civilians including children, journalists and the disabled.