Trump signs declaration reversing US policy on Golan Heights

Golan Heights Where are they and why do they matter

US President Donald Trump has signed a decree saying the United States recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The signing ceremony took place at the White House during Trump's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was broadcast live by U.S. news channels.

The decision by the President - who enjoys sky high approval ratings in Israel- to meet with Netanyahu is viewed by some as an effort to bolster the prime minister's chance of an electoral victory.

Israel took the Golan Heights, a 1,200 sq-km plateau, from Syria during the six-day Israeli-Arab war in 1967.

Trump announced in a tweet last Thursday that the USA would officially support Israel's position.

"Mr. President, your decision to recognize Israel's sovereignty on the Golan Heights is so historic".

Galloway called Trump's declaration "an act of brigandry which will send a clear message to the entire world that the USA cares nothing for global law, for treaties, just force". "You demonstrate it by the sanctions you have imposed on Iran, by the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the embassy", said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was to appear before the AIPAC event on Tuesday but announced that he was cutting short his visit to the US in the aftermath of the latest violence from Gaza.

Around 50,000 people are estimated to live on the Golan, divided nearly equally between Israeli Jewish settlers and Arabic-speaking Druze people of Syrian origin, who follow a monotheistic Abrahamic religion related to Ismaili Shia Islam.

For Trump, Netanyahu's embrace resonates with U.S. evangelists, a core constituency for the Republican leader who is up for re-election in 2020.

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Erdogan voiced against the US move on Friday, noting that the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights can not be allowed.

"The reality in the south as we, unfortunately, saw today where Israeli children spend their nights in bomb shelters, while the heads of Hamas celebrate must end now - and it will!"

An Israeli flag is seen on top of signs pointing out distances to different cities, on Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel May 10, 2018.

Last Friday, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) expressed regret at Donald Trump's plan to recognise Israel's sovereignty over the territory. The U.S. action will surely encourage Israeli parties that have been agitating for the unilateral annexation of parts of the Palestinian West Bank; now that a precedent has been set, the United States can be pressured to recognize that, too.

It's divided between different factions, different groups, different external forces and internal forces.

"Trump is very affected by personal things, and Bibi's stroked him a lot", said Jonathan Rynhold, political science professor at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, using Netanyahu's nickname.

Before arriving in Washington on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would speak to Trump "about his historic declaration" on the Golan and "continued pressure on Iran" following the USA withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran that had relaxed sanctions on Israel's arch-foe. He has also cut USA funding to the Palestinians and taken a hardline stance against Israel's arch regional rival, Iran.

The prime minister is locked in a tough election fight with a centrist political alliance headed by former military chief Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid.

Initially scheduled over two days, including dinner with Trump on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu announced on Monday he was cutting his trip short to return home after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a house in central Israel. However, that move was never formally recognized by the US or other nations, who said its permanent status should be decided in peace negotiations.

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