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'No country can rewrite history': Trump's Golan decision widely condemned

Several countries have slammed Washington's recognition of Israeli 'sovereignty' over Syria's Golan Heights
Syrian official calls US decision a 'blatant assault' on country's sovereignty (Reuters/File photo)

Several countries have slammed Donald Trump's decision to recognise Israel's "sovereignty" over the Syrian Golan Heights, calling the move a brazen attempt to set aside international law.

The Syrian government was amongst the first to condemn the US president's announcement on Monday, with a foreign ministry official calling it a "blatant assault on Syria's unity and sovereignty".

"Trump neither has the right nor the legal authority to legitimise the occupation and theft of others' land by force," the Syrian official told state-run SANA news agency.

Earlier on Monday, Trump signed an executive order stating that the United States officially recognises "that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel".

He justified the move on the basis that the territory, which Israel occupied after the 1967 war, is critical for Israel's security.

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"Today I'm taking historic action to promote Israel's ability to defend itself," Trump told reporters.

Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 in a move that was never accepted by the international community.

Today, tens of thousands of Israeli settlers live in communities across the occupied area.

'No country can rewrite history'

The US president's move, which was first announced late last week, is the latest in a series of major policy announcements pursued by the Trump administration in the face of widespread criticism and backlash.

The Lebanese foreign ministry rejected Trump's decision on Monday, saying that it breaks the basic rules of international law. Beirut also warned Israel that only a just peace will help it maintain its security, not military power and expansionism.

"The Golan Heights is Arab, Syrian land, and no proclamation will change that reality. No country can rewrite history by transferring the ownership of land to another country," the ministry said in a statement.

The Golan Heights: Why it matters

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Officially part of Syria since the country’s independence in 1944, the Golan Heights is a strategic plateau straddling Israel and Syria and overlooking southern Lebanon.

It was captured by Israel during the Middle East war of 1967 and subsequently annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

The Golan is recognised as part of Syria by the United Nations. UN Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from the Golan and other occupied territories including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

However, Israel has repeatedly refused to do so and in 1981, it formally annexed the Syrian territory.

A UN peacekeeping force has patrolled the demarcation line between Syrian and Israeli-controlled areas of the Golan since 1974.

Israel has constructed settlements that are illegal under international law in the occupied territory and settled its citizens there.

Some 20,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the Golan, alongside around 26,000 of the territory’s native inhabitants, who are predominantly Druze and identify as Syrian.

Since the Syrian war erupted in 2011, Syrians in the Golan taking Israeli citizenship has become more common, though the vast majority reject it.

The Golan is thought to provide around one-third of Israel's fresh water supply. Water from the territory flows into the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River.

Other than its strategic significance - the Golan is the only land border between Israel and Syria - the territory is also used by Israelis for leisure purposes. The area counts an Israeli ski resort and several vineyards.

For his part, Sheikh Naim Hassan, a Lebanese Druze spiritual leader, denounced the US decision, saying that the people of the Golan Heights have historically stuck to their Arab roots, rejecting Israeli attempts to erase the Arab heritage of the local population.

Most Syrians in the Golan Heights are Druze, a mystical monotheistic sect that branched off from mainstream Islam.

"The Arab allegiance of the Druze in Golan alongside their brethren in the nation will not be bent by the [US] decisions, decrees and even assaults," Hassan said, as reported by Lebanon's news agency NNA.

'The Golan Heights is Arab, Syrian land, and no proclamation will change that reality'

- Lebanese foreign ministry

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said the US "once again ignored international laws" by recognising Israel's hold on the Syrian territory.

"However, this decision will never legitimise Israel's annexation" of the Golan Heights, Cavusoglu said, as reported by Anadolu news agency.

The spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the move, saying it was especially cynical as it took place just "as Israel bombards Gaza".

The Israeli military carried out several air strikes on the Gaza Strip late on Monday, hours after a rocket was fired from the coastal Palestinian enclave into a community north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people.

The decision to recognise Israel's "sovereignty" over the Golan Heights "as Israel bombards Gaza is manifestation of [an] anti-peace mentality", said Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesman, as reported by Anadolu.

Netanyahu hails decision

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a Washington-based advocacy group, called Trump's decision an "outrageous violation of international law".

It cited five United Nations resolutions that explicitly call on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied after the 1967 war, including the Golan Heights.

"It is the obligation of the US Congress and the Trump administration, as well as the United Nations and the international community, to uphold its own international agreements and fundamental principles of human rights that it claims to promote in its foreign policies," the group said in a statement.

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Trump's decision had one major supporter: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at the White House on Monday, Netanyahu said that by recognising Israeli "sovereignty" over the Golan Heights, Trump had proven to be the greatest US president in history.

"Over the years, Israel has been blessed to have many friends who sat in the Oval Office, but Israel has never had a better friend than you," Netanyahu told Trump.

Analysts have said that Washington's decision to recognise Israel's hold on the Golan aims to boost Netanyahu's chances at re-election in the 9 April elections.

The Israeli premier is facing a stiff challenge from ex-Israeli army boss Benny Gantz, who was also in Washington this week to shore up support during an address at pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC's annual conference.