Israeli Golan Cabinet Meeting ‘Provocative’: Syria Envoy

Ambassador to the United Nations and Head of the Government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari gestures during a press conference following a new round of negotiations of peace talks on Syria at the United Nations Office in Geneva on March 21, 2016.

GENEVA (AFP) –  Syria’s envoy to the United Nations on Monday denounced as “provocative” an unprecedented Israeli cabinet meeting held in the Golan Heights, which the Jewish state annexed decades ago.

“It is an irresponsible provocation committed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of the Israeli occupation force,” Bashar al-Jaafari (pictured) said of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, which was the first ever to be held in the territory seized from Syria in 1967.

Jaafari, who is also the head of Syria’s delegation at peace talks set to resume Monday in Geneva, said his government would send letters of protest to the UN secretary general and the Security Council.

The letters, he told a Geneva news conference, urge the Security Council and the secretary-general “to condemn immediately the (Israeli Golan cabinet) meeting and demand that it is not repeated.”

Jaafari said that he told the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, that “the Syrian Arab Republic has the right to take back the Golan…. by all the legal means guaranteed under the UN charter.”

Netanyahu, who chaired the meeting, said the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights would “forever” remain in his country’s hands.

“The Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel forever” and “Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights,” he said at the start of the cabinet meeting, Israeli public radio reported.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu planned the cabinet meeting as a statement amid fears Israel could come under pressure to return the Golan as part of a future peace deal for its war-torn neighbour.