JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday that the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights would “forever” remain in his country’s hands as his cabinet held its first meeting in the territory.
“The Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel forever,” Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting, in comments broadcast on public radio.
“Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.”
Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu planned the cabinet meeting as a statement amid fears Israel could come under pressure to return the Golan — which it seized from Syria in 1967 — as part of a future peace deal for its war-torn neighbour.
Saying it was doubtful that Syria can return to what it was, he urged the international community to recognise Israel’s claim on the territory.
Israel fears Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah could establish a front against it along the Syrian border and that militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group could also pose a threat.
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.
Netanyahu’s comments come amid a fragile ceasefire in Syria and indirect negotiations in Switzerland between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the opposition.