Syria vows to recover Golan as Trump policy shift draws criticism

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Trump’s statement on Thursday marked a dramatic shift in U.S. policy over the status of a disputed area that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East conflict and annexed in 1981, a move not recognised internationally.

Against this backdrop of hostility toward the U.S. move, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Beirut after visiting Israel.

He is expected to pile pressure on the government to curb the influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

The declaration is the latest in a series of moves that have fueled anger among Israel’s Arab enemies and U.S.-allied Arabs.

It followed the U.S. recognition in December 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that also drew international criticism as the disputed city’s status remains at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Russia, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad with forces in Syria, said Trump’s comments risked seriously destabilising the region and expressed hopes the statement was just declaratory.

Iran, Assad’s main regional ally and which also has forces in Syria, condemned the statement as illegal and unacceptable.

Turkey, a U.S.-allied state and an adversary of Damascus, also criticised the move, saying it had brought the Middle East to the edge of a new crisis and the legitimisation of the occupation of the Golan Heights could not be allowed.

Damascus said the Golan Heights would remain “Syrian, Arab” and Trump had shown contempt for international law.

“The Syrian nation is more determined to liberate this precious piece of Syrian national land through all available means,” the Syrian government said.

However, the Golan Heights had been calm for decades, the frontier has reemerged as a flashpoint for regional tensions during the Syrian war.

In May 2018, Israel accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of launching a rocket salvo into its territory from the Syrian side of the frontier.

Israel, which has mounted numerous air strikes against what it has called Iran-backed targets in Syria, has demanded Russia keep forces allied to Tehran away from the frontier.