The Arab League, Russia, Iran and Turkey have strongly warned the US after President Donald Trump declared Thursday that he will recognize Syria’s Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
The strategic highlands have been under the Israeli occupation since 1967, but Trump’s abrupt declaration a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Israel brings the dispute to a boiling point.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Trump’s statement has brought the region to the edge of a new crisis.
In a speech at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, Erdogan said: “We cannot allow the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights.”
Syria, which declared last month that it was ready to go to another war with Israel for Golan, condemned Trump’s pledge in a statement issued by its foreign ministry on Friday.
“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,” it said.
“The irresponsible remarks by Trump, the US president, one more time demonstrated the US’ blind and relentless support for the Israeli occupying regime and its hostile acts,” it added.
Trump’s announcement came ahead of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States next week.
In a tweet that caught many by surprise, Trump said the time had come for the United States to take the step, which Netanyahu warmly welcomed as a “miracle” on the Jewish holiday of Purim.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump tweeted.
The US would be the first country to recognize the annexation, which the rest of the international community regards as Syria territory occupied by Israel.
The Syrian statement on Friday said Washington’s stance is a threat to global peace and security.
“The statements of the US president and his administration on the occupied Syrian Golan will never change the fact that the Golan was and will remain Arab and Syrian,” it said.
“The Syrian nation is more determined to liberate this precious piece of Syrian national land through all available means,” it added.
Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the 22-member organization “fully supports Syria’s right for its occupied territory.”
The Golan Heights are “occupied territory” belonging to Syria under international law and the resolutions of the United Nations and the UN Security Council, he stressed.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also condemned the US president’s declaration, stressing that Ankara supports Syria’s territorial integrity.
“Attempts by the US to legitimize Israel’s actions against international law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region,” he wrote in a tweet late Thursday.
A member of the Russian Federation Council also slammed Trump’s pledge, saying “Russia will never recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
Oleg Morozov said Trump’s move is aimed at splitting the Arab world and undermine Syria and its “partnership with Russia.”
Iran also hit out at the decision, denouncing it as unacceptable. “This illegal and unacceptable recognition does not change the fact that it belongs to Syria,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said.
Last week, in its annual human rights report, the US State Department dropped the phrase “Israeli-occupied” from the Golan Heights section, instead calling it “Israeli-controlled.”
Netanyahu has for weeks been stepping up longstanding Israeli requests for the US and others to recognize the occupied Golan as Israeli territory.
Trump’s announcement came as Pompeo was wrapping up a two-day trip to Jerusalem al-Quds during which he made a controversial visit to the Buraq Wall, called by Israel as the Wailing Wall, in the Old City.
The visit made him the highest-ranking US official to visit the site with any Israeli leader and appeared to further signal the Trump administration’s support for Israel’s control of the contested city.
In December 2017, Trump formally recognized Jerusalem al-Quds as the so-called capital of Israel and later moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city which Palestinians view as the capital of their future state.
Pompeo’s visit also appeared to signal Trump’s support for Netanyahu who is facing a tough challenge in the upcoming elections and reeling from a series of corruption scandals.