Syria has condemned US President Donald Trump’s statement that it is time to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, while its close military ally Russia said changing the status of the territory would violate the United Nations agreements.
Syrian state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source on Friday as saying Trump’s statement showed “the blind bias of the United States” towards Israel.
It did not change “the reality that the Golan Heights 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 told Reuters news agency, adding that Trump’s statement was “irresponsible” and showed “contempt” for international law.
Syria’s main opposition grouping has also condemned Trump’s comments.
The Syrian Negotiations Commission voiced “its rejection of this decision and its national commitment to Syria’s right to retrieve all its occupied territory.”
The territory’s return has always been a key Syrian national demand, championed by government and rebels alike throughout the bloody civil war that has ripped the country apart since 2011.
Another close Syrian ally, Iran, also upbraided Trump for the comment he made on Thursday, which marks a dramatic shift in the US policy over the status of a disputed area that was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 – a move not recognised internationally.
‘To the edge of a new crisis’
Last week, the US dropped “Israeli-occupied” designation in its annual human rights report, though the State Department insisted the wording change did not mean a policy change.
Iran said the statement was unacceptable. “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.
Turkey, which is heavily involved in the eight-year-old Syrian conflict, said that Trump’s statement has brought the region to the edge of a new crisis.
“We cannot allow the legitimisation of the occupation of the Golan Heights,” President Tayyip Erdogan, who is opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said in a speech at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul.
Both Iran and Russia have deployed forces in Syria in support of Assad during the Syrian conflict, with Iran sending its own forces and backing regional Shia militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah that have helped Damascus.
Russia has warned that the US policy U-turn could spark new conflicts.
“Certainly, such appeals can considerably destabilise 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.”
Meanwhile the Arab League said Trump’s comments were “completely outside international law”.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said Trump’s statement would not change “the constant fact”, recognised internationally, that the “Golan Heights are Syrian lands forcefully occupied by Israel”.
The two Arab countries with official diplomatic relations with Israel have also voiced their displeasure at the US president’s statement.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said lasting peace in the region requires Israel to withdraw from all Arab territories it occupies, including the Golan, while Egypt has urged “respect (for) legitimate international resolutions and the United Nations Charter on the unacceptability of land appropriation by force”.
‘Victory’ for Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pressed the US to recognise its claim and raised that possibility in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017.
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the occupied Golan Heights, said it was “a major political victory” for Netanyahu.
“He has been working hard throughout the years to get the Americans to recognise the Golan Heights as Israeli. Now it pretty much happened,” she said.
“We are largely expecting that announcement to be made officially when the Israeli prime minister will be in the United States next week.
“The American president seems to be throwing his weight behind Netanyahu in what is very tightly contested election in Israel.”