As UN Security Council debates Golan, US says it wants peacekeepers to stay
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As UN Security Council debates Golan, US says it wants peacekeepers to stay

American diplomat says Trump’s recognition of Israeli control over strategic heights does not affect mission of 1,000-strong force deployed along buffer zone

Armored vehicles of UN peacekeepers of UNDOF, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, wait to cross from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights to Syria, on Thursday, August 28, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)
Armored vehicles of UN peacekeepers of UNDOF, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, wait to cross from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights to Syria, on Thursday, August 28, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)

UNITED NATIONS — The United States said Wednesday a UN peacekeeping mission deployed in the Golan Heights should remain in place despite Washington’s decision to recognize Israel’s control 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.

Rodney Hunter, United States Counselor for Political Affairs, addresses the United Nations Security Council, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

“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 captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and extended Israeli law over in 1981, in a move that was never recognized internationally.

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.

Washington’s European allies have said they continue to view the Golan as Israeli-occupied territory and will not follow in Trump’s footsteps.

Photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows an Israeli flag fluttering above the wreckage of an Israeli tank sitting on a hill in the Golan Heights and overlooking the border with Syria. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Trump’s decision was viewed with concern by the Europeans who say it legitimizes 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.

The anger at the US recognition was dubbed on Wednesday “hypocrisy and lies” by Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon.

“For 19 years, Syria used the Golan as a forward outpost against Israel, and today it’s Iran that wants to put its soldiers on the shore of the Sea of Galilee,” Danon said in a statement.

“Israel won’t allow such a thing ever, and it’s time the international community recognize the fact that the Golan will remain under Israeli sovereignty forever. The United States and Israel will stand as a united front in the face of the hypocrisy and lies.”

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