Hundreds of Druze in the Golan Heights rallied on Saturday against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territory.
Protesters in Syria also gathered along the border, as Israeli security forces were put on high alert for potential violence.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and later applied Israeli law over it, a step tantamount to annexation. The move was never recognized by the international community, which considers the area to be occupied Syrian territory, and most Druze residents of the area remain citizens of Syria.
In Majdal Shams, a Druze town near the border, hundreds of people attended a protest rally, with many waving Syrian flags and holding up pictures of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
Residents from other nearby Druze villages also took part in the demonstration, footage of which was broadcast on Syrian state television.
Wasef Khatar, a Druze community representative, said Trump was making commitments on “Arab, Syrian land, not Israeli.”
“We reject the decision of the American President Trump because he is talking about something he doesn’t own,” he said in Arabic.
A protest against Trump’s recognition was also held on the Syrian side of the border in Quneitra.
Ahead of the demonstrations, the Israeli military said it was preparing for possible violence.
According to Channel 13 news, snipers were deployed and riot control measures, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, were supplied to forces stationed in the area.
Trump tweeted Thursday that it was “time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” upending decades of US policy on the matter.
White House officials are currently drafting an official US declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, with Trump set to sign it when he hosts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington next week, Israeli TV reports said Friday.
Israeli leaders were exuberant over the announcement, with Netanyahu saying “the message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.”
The move was seen as a potential major boon to the prime minister less than three weeks before a general election. A signing ceremony with Trump in the White House would be an even greater boost for Netanyahu.
But Trump has denied that his decision has anything to do with the Israeli election.
Trump’s move was condemned strongly by Syria and its allies Russia and Iran, as well as by the president of Turkey.
Syria’s official SANA news agency, quoting an unnamed foreign ministry official, slammed the decision as “irresponsible” and a violation of United Nations resolutions concerning the territory’s status. The source added that Trump’s statement won’t change “the fact that the Golan was and will remain Arab and Syrian.”
The European Union on Friday stressed that it would not change its position on the Golan and does not consider it a part of Israeli territory.
Trump’s recognition caught officials in Israel and the United States off-guard, according to the McClatchy news agency.
“We all found out by tweet,” an Israeli official was quoted as saying. “We’ve been lobbying for this for a long time, but it was not the product of one phone call. There were hints, but we weren’t given advance notice.”
Another Israeli source told the news agency that Israeli leaders were informed of the decision only shortly beforehand, as with Trump’s abrupt announcement in December that he would pull all US forces out of Syria.
According to the report, Trump’s Middle East peace negotiators and the State Department were also surprised by the move, with US officials having expected an announcement when Trump hosts Netanyahu at the White House next week.
Quoting unnamed White House officials, the news agency said Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton was a key force behind the move following his visit to Israel in January, seeing it as a signal the US remained committed to Israel in the wake of Trump’s announcement of a US troop pullout from Syria.
Agencies contributed to this report.