DONALD Trump made a radical break with 50 years of US foreign policy by officially recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
But where are the Golan Heights and when were they occupied? Here’s everything you need to know.
The town of Majdal Shams near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights[/caption]
WHERE ARE THE GOLAN HEIGHTS?
The Golan Heights is region of around 700 square miles in the Levant – an area of the Eastern Medditerranean primarily in Western Asia.
It is the name given to the area Israel captured from Syria during the Six-Day War — an armed conflict between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and what is now known as Egypt.
Since the war in 1967, Israel has occupied the western two-thirds of the region while the eastern third has remained under the control of Syria.
With the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the eastern area of the Golan Heights has seen fighting between the Syrian Arab Army and many different factions of the Syrian opposition.
As of July 2018, the Syrian government has regained its grip on the eastern Golan Heights.
WHEN DID ISRAEL OCCUPY THE GOLAN HEIGHTS?
Israel seized control of the Golan Heights, along with the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and West Bank of the River Jordan in 1967.
Since then, Israel began constructing settlements in the region — a move widely condemned by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
UNSC Resolution 497, adopted unanimously in December 1981, declared Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights “null and void and without international legal effect” and called on Israel to rescind its action.
Israel has subsequently maintained its right to the area, sometimes citing different UNSC resolutions.
WHY IS CONTENTIOUS?
As well as condemnation from the international community, Syria has demanded the return of the territory since its annexation in 1967.
Syria tried to regain the Heights in the 1973 Middle East war, but was thwarted.
Israel and Syria signed an armistice in 1974 and the Golan had been relatively quiet since.
In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest-level talks over a possible return of the Golan and a peace agreement.
But the negotiations collapsed and subsequent talks also failed.
The part of the Golan occupied by Israel is a hilly 1,200 square kilometre (460 sq mile) plateau that also overlooks Lebanon and borders Jordan.
Israel therefore wants the Golan for security reasons.
It says that the civil war in Syria demonstrates the need to keep the plateau as a buffer zone between Israeli towns and the instability of its neighbour.
More than 40,000 people live on the Israeli-occupied Golan – more than half of them Druze residents.
The Druze are an Arab minority who practice an offshoot of Islam and many of its adherents in Syria have long been loyal to the Assad regime.
WHAT WAS DONALD TRUMP’S INTERVENTION?
President Donald Trump signed a decree recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights on March 25 2019 .
The document reverses more than a half-century of US policy as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House.
Trump announced his decision in a tweet a week earlier.
He had said that it was time for the US to take the step after 52 years of Israeli control of the strategic highlands on the border with Syria.
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Netanyahu has pressed for such recognition for months.
However, the declaration prompted the United Nations to repeat its stance, that the “status of Golan has not changed”, while Syria slammed it as a “slap” to the international community.
Recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights makes Washington “the main enemy” of Arabs, Syria warned.
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