Netanyahu Says Israel Will Never Withdraw From Golan Heights

  • Israeli leader marks statement with cabinet meeting on plateau
  • `Time that the international community recognized reality'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said publicly for the first time that Israel will never pull back from the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau it captured from Syria almost 50 years ago.

Underlining the message, Netanyahu made the declaration at a weekly cabinet meeting that he convened at Ma’ale Gamla, a Golan settlement, instead of his office building in Jerusalem.

“It is time that the international community recognized reality,” Netanyahu told the cabinet in remarks circulated by e-mail. “The Golan will always remain in Israel’s hands.”

The Syrian government responded with a protest letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterating its demand that Israel leave the Golan.

Israel took the Golan in the 1967 war when it also captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. About 20,000 Israelis now live in the Golan, which Israel effectively annexed in 1981 in a move declared “null and void” in UN Security Resolution 497. Those living in the Golan -- a central bargaining chip in failed Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations -- include about 25,000 Druze Arabs whose families remained when Israel captured the territory.

Israel maintains a strong military presence on its side of the 49-year-old provisional Syrian frontier, which is supervised by the UN. Fire from opposing forces in the Syrian civil war has occasionally hit the Israeli side, prompting retaliation. Netanyahu said last week that Israel has attacked dozens of arms shipments on the way from Syria to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, which battled Israel in 2006 in a 34-day missile war.

Syria condemned Netanyahu for holding the cabinet meeting in the territory, pledging to “liberate the Syrian Golan from Israeli occupation.” The message was sent in letters, from Syria Foreign and Expatriates Ministry to Ban and the Security Council, that called for UN intervention, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said on its website.

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