Golan Heights 'forever Israeli', PM Benjamin Netanyahu vows

image copyrightAP
image captionBenjamin Netanyahu (C) called on the international community to recognise Israeli sovereignty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed the Golan Heights will forever stay in Israel's hands, at the country's first cabinet meeting held in the occupied territory.

He called on the international community to recognise Israeli sovereignty.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967's Six-Day War.

Israel annexed the region in 1981 but the move has not been internationally recognised. Syria demands its return.

Mr Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting: "I chose to have this festive cabinet meeting on the Golan Heights to send a clear message: the Golan Heights will forever remain in Israeli hands.

"It's time, after 50 years, that the international community finally recognises that the Golan will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty."


Commentators say the statement comes amid reports the return of the Golan Heights could be part of negotiations for a post-civil war Syria.

But Mr Netanyahu said: "Whatever is beyond the border, the boundary itself will not change."

There are more than 30 Jewish settlements on the heights, with an estimated 20,000 settlers.

Israel has avoided any major involvement in Syria's conflict but fears any increased presence in Syria of Hezbollah fighters, Sunni militant groups or Iranian troops.

Mr Netanyahu said he had told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel would "not oppose a diplomatic settlement in Syria, on condition that it not come at the expense of the security of the state of Israel".

That meant "at the end of the day, the forces of Iran, Hezbollah and [so-called Islamic State] will be removed from Syrian soil."

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in five years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.

More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other - as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionUnited Nations peacekeepers have been in the Golan Heights since 1974 supervising a ceasefire between Israel and Syria

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