Golan Heights Will Never Be Returned To Syria, Vows Benjamin Netanyahu

Golan Heights will forever remain in Israel’s hands and never be returned to Syria, vowed Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday at the country’s first cabinet meeting held in the occupied territory.

The Israeli prime minister called on the international community to recognize Israeli sovereignty in Golan Heights, which was seized from Syria in 1967’s Six-Day War.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Israel annexed the region in 1981 though it has never been internationally recognized, and now Syria is demanding its return.

In remarks made during the cabinet meeting that marked the one-year anniversary of Netanyahu’s current government’s formation, the prime minister said he chose to have the meeting in Golan Heights to send a very specific message to Syria and the international community.

“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 recognizes that the Golan will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.”

Netanyahu added that no boundaries will be changed and said he would not oppose diplomatic efforts to stabilize Syria unless they came at the expense of his nation’s security.

Golan Heights is the home to an estimated 20,000 Jewish settlers who live in more than 30 settlements.

While Israel has avoided any major involvement during the Syrian conflict, the government is keeping watch for any increased presence in Syria of Hezbollah fighters, Sunni militant groups, or Iranian troops.

Last week, Netanyahu confirmed for the first time that Israel had attacked a number of advanced weapon shipments from Syria to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.

During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he told U.S. 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,” according to the New York Times.

“At the end of the day, the forces of Iran, Hezbollah and [so-called Islamic State] will be removed from Syrian soil.”

According to ABC News, the remarks drew quick condemnation by Syria.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry filed a complaint to the U.N. Secretary General and Security Council over the meeting, calling the meeting in Golan Heights “reckless” and “provocative.” It called on the international community to push Israel out of what it calls the “occupied Syrian Golan.”

According to World Vision, more than 320,000 have lost their lives during the five-year Syrian Conflict, which began with anti-government protests and later escalated into a full-scale civil war.

During the conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule, as well as jihadist militants from the Islamic State, an estimated 11 million others have been forced from their homes as refugees. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, while about 10 percent of the refugees have fled to Europe.

(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)