State department changes term in annual human rights report of Syrian territory Israel captured in 1967
The US has dropped itsdescription of the Golan Heights from Israeli-occupied to Israeli-controlled in a state department report, the latest sign of approval towards Israels disputed claim to land it captured from Syria.
World powers have long called on Israel to rescind its authority of the strategic region and labelled the occupation as illegal under international law.
However, Israel has been lobbying hard for the Trump administration to recognise sovereignty over the volcanic plateau it occupied more than half a century ago and later annexed.
Washington appears to be moving in that direction. In November, it opposed for the first time a UN resolution calling for Israel to end its occupation of the 1,200 sq km (460 sq miles) area, breaking its previously long-standing stance of abstaining.
In its annual global human rights report released on Wednesday, the state department did not refer to the area as occupied. Neither did it use the word occupation unless referring to employment rights or when quoting other groups.
Additionally, a separate section on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas that Israel also captured in the 1967 Middle East war, did not refer to those territories as being occupied or under occupation.
The change of wording built on the state departments 2017 report, when it renamed the publication from Israel and the Occupied Territories to Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli forces left Gaza in 2005 but continue to maintain an air, land and sea blockade. The West Bank remains under Israeli military control.
The report is certain to frustrate the Palestinian leadership, which sees Donald Trump as the most biased US president in the history of the conflict.
Since he took office, Trump has declared the city of Jerusalem part of which Palestinians claim as Israels capital, shuttered Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and closed the USs own consulate that serves the Palestinian people.
A state department official, commenting on the language used in the 2018 report, told Reuters: The policy on the status of the territories has not changed.
And Trumps national security adviser, John Bolton, said in August that a formal US endorsement of Israels control over the Golan Heights was not under discussion.
However, David Friedman, Trumps former personal lawyer and ambassador to Israel, has previously said he expected Israel to keep the Golan Heights forever.
On Monday, the envoy stood alongside the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the Golan Heights, along with Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who called for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the area.
To give this up would be a strategic nightmare for the state of Israel. And who would you give it to? he said.
Any recognition by the US of the Golan Heights ahead of a 9 April national election in Israel would be seen as a major domestic win for Netanyahu, a major Trump ally, in his attempt to remain in office.
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