A picture taken from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights shows an Israeli soldier monitoring the Syrian village of Hader, on June 16, 2015 (AFP/Jalaa Marey, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the Golan Heights would “forever remain in Israel's hands,” during a controversial cabinet meeting held in the annexed territory on Sunday.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and later annexed it, in a move never recognized by the international community.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported on Friday that Israeli officials had decided to hold a meeting in the area as a gesture of defiance
, as world leaders work on drafting an agreement to end the five-year civil war in Syria which calls on Israel to hand back the annexed Golan to Syria.
“I chose to hold this festive Cabinet meeting on the Golan Heights in order to deliver a clear message: The Golan Heights will forever remain in Israel's hands. Israel will never come down from the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu said.
“The time has come for the international community to recognize reality, especially two basic facts. One, whatever is beyond the border, the boundary itself will not change. Two, after 50 years, the time has come for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain under Israel's sovereignty permanently," he added.
Netanyahu said that “many countries in the region” -- without specifying which -- had already recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the occupied Golan Heights, adding that “in the stormy region around us, Israel is the stabilizing factor; Israel is the solution, not the problem.”
The Syrian government condemned “in the strongest of terms” on Sunday the Israeli cabinet’s decision to hold its “provocative” meeting in the Golan Heights, Syrian national news agency SANA reported.
SANA reported that the Syrian Foreign Ministry sent letters to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling “on the UN and the international community to assume their responsibility in implementing relevant UN and Security Council resolutions and terminate the occupation of the Syrian Golan in accordance with Security Council Resolution 497,” which states that the Israeli occupation of the Golan is “null and void and without international legal effect.”
The Syrian government letters further called on the UN to “condemn all forms of Israeli terrorism against the Syrian people in the occupied Syrian Golan and against the integrity and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic’s territory and people, noting that Israeli policies pose a threat to security and stability in Syria, the region, and the world.”
Al-Marsad, the Arab Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Syrian Golan, estimates that around 130,000 Syrians were displaced by Israel from the Golan during the 1967 takeover, a population that has now grown to around 430,000, many of whom live in areas hit by recent violence in Syria.
The Israeli military tightened the northern border of the occupied Golan last summer, reportedly in effort to prevent access to Syria by Druze living in the occupied Golan who said they would cross the border in order to protect their brethren in the ongoing Syrian civil war.