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Trump tweets that Israel should have sovereignty over Golan Heights

Trump on sovereignty over Golan Heights

President Trump wrote on Twitter that Israel should have full sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. Peace talks between Syria and Israel have continued on and off since Israel unilaterally annexed the area in 1981, a move which was not recognized internationally.

"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!" Mr. Trump wrote. The tweet could boost Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a strong international ally of Mr. Trump's who is visiting Washington next week. Elections in Israel take place on April 9.

Netanyahu quickly expressed his thanks for Mr. Trump's tweet.

"At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, @POTUS Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump!" The official prime minister's Twitter page wrote.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust from Israel's attorney general. He is dining with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week.

The president's tweet represents a departure from U.S. policy, which has for years referred to the territory seized by Israel from Syria over 50 years ago as the "Israeli-occupied Golan Heights." This is the way it was characterized in the State Department's 2017 Human Rights Report. In the recently released 2018 report, however, there is no mention of the area as "occupied." 

While Pompeo said this was "not a change in U.S. policy," he also specified that the language used in the Human Rights Report was used "with great intentionality." 

He told reporters traveling with him in Jerusalem that the language was "there for a reason" and stressed that "it wasn't a mistake; it wasn't an error. It was done knowingly and we believe we have the most factual actual description that was appropriate for the report."

After Israel first seized the Golan Heights in 1967, Israeli citizens almost immediately began settling in the area. Syria unsuccessfully tried to retake the territory in 1973. The two countries signed an armistice in 1974, and United Nations forces have been in place in the area ever since.

There are more than 30 Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights, according to the BBC, and roughly 20,000 Syrians still living in the area.

Mr. Trump has maintained close ties with Israel since taking office. He recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in May. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is in charge of brokering a peace deal between Israel and Palestine.

Former U.S. envoy to Syria Fred Hof told CBS News that this is short term political play that long term hurts the region.

"A new flurry of reports suggesting Israel may formally annex the occupied Golan Heights is music to the ears of Bashar al-Assad, a mass murderer who would welcome a decisive change of subject from his own criminality to what he will characterize as Israel's theft of Syrian land," Hof said. 

He also argued that the move would not deter Iran, but instead bolster their support of terrorist group Hezbollah.

"Among the delighted will be Iran and Hezbollah, whose resistance pretensions will be gratuitously elevated above their sewer of transnational terror, drug running, and money laundering," Hof continued.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, wrote on Twitter that he supported recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and that he and Sen. Ted Cruz would introduce a proposal to do so in the Senate.

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