Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C front) poses with ministers prior to the weekly cabinet meeting in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, April 17, 2016. (Reuters Photo)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out any possibility of returning the occupied Golan Heights to Syria, saying Israel will lay claim to it forever.
“The Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel forever,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of a cabinet meeting in the occupied territory on Sunday.
He said he held the first cabinet meeting there to “send a clear message: Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.”
Israeli media say that the meeting was planned to be held in the occupied territory as a statement amid fears that Tel Aviv may come under pressure to return Golan Heights to Syria.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria after the 1967 six-day war and later occupied it in a move that has never been recognized by the international community.
Israel has built tens of illegal settlements in the area ever since. It has also used the region to carry out a number of military operations against the Syrian government.
A picture taken on February 21, 2016, from the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights shows a section of the border fence between the Golan Heights and Syria. ©AFP
Netanyahu also said that some 50,000 people are living there and “thousands of families that are supposed to join them in the coming years.”
The Israeli prime minister demanded that the international community recognize Syria’s Golan as Israeli territory. He said, “Whatever happens on the other side of the border, the border itself will not move. Secondly, after 50 years it is time that the international community realized that the Golan will remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
Netanyahu also referred to his recent talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry about the war in Syria and said he had expressed pessimism that the Arab country would ever become what it was. He also told the top US diplomat that Tel Aviv would not oppose any agreement in Syria “on the condition that it doesn’t come at the cost of Israel’s security.”
According to a February report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the foreign-backed militancy in Syria has claimed the lives of over 470,000 people since March 2011. The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, puts the number at about 270,000.