US wants UN peacekeeping force to stay in the Golan
The United States said Wednesday a UN peacekeeping mission deployed in the Golan Heights should remain in place despite its decision to recognise Israel's annexation of the strategic plateau.
The 1,000-strong UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was dispatched to a buffer zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan in 1974, tasked with monitoring a ceasefire.
President Donald Trump's decision to recognize the Golan as Israeli territory prompted speculation that Washington would seek to end the UNDOF mission when its mandate comes up for renewal in June.
"This announcement does not affect the 1974 Disengagement Agreement, nor do we believe it undermines UNDOF's mandate in any way," US diplomat Rodney Hunter told a Security Council meeting on the Golan.
"UNDOF continues to have a vital role to play in preserving stability between Israel and Syria, most importantly by ensuring that the area of separation is a buffer zone free from any military presence or activities other than those of UNDOF," he added.
The council met at Syria's request to discuss the US decision, which Damascus said was a "flagrant violation" of UN resolutions.
Three Security Council resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from the Golan, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed in 1981, in a move that was never recognized internationally.
|Golan Heights and the surrounding region. [Click to enlarge]|
The US diplomat argued that the decision would bolster Israel's security and "can contribute to the stability of the entire Middle East" by keeping Syria and its Iranian ally in check.
Trump's decision is viewed with concern by the Europeans who say it legitimises the use of force to seize land - a stance that could have an impact in opposing Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The council was not expected to release a statement criticizing the US decision following the meeting as this would require consensus among all 15 council members including the United States.
Five European countries on the UN Security Council earlier rejected Trump's decision and voiced concern that the US move would have broad consequences in the Middle East.
Two of Washington's closest allies - the UK and France - joined Belgium, Germany and Poland to declare that the European position had not changed and that the Golan remained Israeli-occupied Syrian territory.
The 30th Arab League Summit is due to take place in Tunis on Sunday, where the issue of the Golan will likely be discussed.
Israel seized the strategically-important Golan Heights in the 1967 war with Syria, and effectively illegally annexed it in 1981.
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