Saudi King Salman said he “absolutely rejects” any steps that would undermine Syrian sovereignty over the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, after US President Donald Trump recognized the area as Israeli territory.
Speaking at an Arab League event in Tunisia on Sunday, Salman also reiterated his support for a ‘two-state solution’ for Israel and Palestine, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.
His remarks came as a strong rebuff to US President Donald Trump, who signed a declaration last week officially recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel. The strategic area was captured from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967, and has since remained under Israeli control.
In 1981, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to declare the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights illegal and demanded that Tel Aviv “rescind” it.
Trump’s move, not surprisingly, was praised by the Israeli government and drew fierce criticism from Syria, which blasted the annexation of its territory as “null and void.”
The issue also caused a rift with some of the US’ NATO allies. French leader Emmanuel Macron said that the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights “violates international law and creates tension in the region.”
On Sunday, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, stressed that ignoring the UN’s position on the Golan Heights is “not a solution.”
The Saudi king’s affirmation of East Jerusalem as Palestinian is another clear rebuke of Washington’s policy, since Trump recognized the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. That also did not go down well with Washington’s allies as some cautioned saying it put the whole perspective of the peace process in jeopardy.
Washington and Riyadh struck several major arms deals recently. However, their relations became strained over Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was allegedly murdered on the orders of the Saudi royal family.
President Trump condemned the murder and sanctioned several Saudi officials in connection with the case. The White House is now being pressured at home to take more action against the kingdom as Trump did not back down from the multi-billion dollar arms contracts with Riyadh.
The Golan Heights, meanwhile, remains a stage of tensions between Israel and Syria. Tel Aviv has accused ‘Iranian proxies’ operating in Syria of launching missiles over the Golan into its territory. In response, the IDF carried out cross-border raids into Syria. These incursions were condemned by Damascus as a “violation of its sovereignty.”