Syria says it reserves right to invade Golan Heights

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi accuses Israel of violating ceasefire, Turkey of turning its border zone into terrorist hotbed

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

UN peacekeepers monitor the Syrian side of the border from an Israeli army post at Mount Bental near Kibbutz Merom Golan in the Golan Heights in July 2012. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
UN peacekeepers monitor the Syrian side of the border from an Israeli army post at Mount Bental near Kibbutz Merom Golan in the Golan Heights in July 2012. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

The Syrian government announced Sunday that it reserves the right to invade the Israeli-held Golan Heights at any time, and accused Israel of violating the terms of the 1974 ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur War.

During a speech in Damascus, Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi accused Israel of attacking sites near the Syrian capital, allowing rebel groups to operate in the demilitarized zone separating Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan Heights, and letting those groups kidnap UN observers on multiple occasions.

Four Filipino soldiers belonging to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights were released Sunday after being detained by a rebel group for several days amid intense fighting between government and opposition forces along the border. In March, the same rebel group, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, kidnapped 21 Filipino peacekeepers and held them hostage for several days before releasing them to Jordan.

Zoubi said that in light of Israel’s alleged airstrikes against Syrian targets in the past few weeks, Damascus “has the right at this time and at any other time to deal with the Golan issue in the way the owner has the right to deal with his property, because the Golan is and has always been a Syrian Arab land.”

Israel conquered the Golan Heights — a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel — from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and staved off a Syrian assault on the Heights in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. UNDOF, the peacekeeping force established in 1974, monitors the increasingly conflict-ridden zone separating the two militaries.

“Israel must understand that it can’t take a promenade in the Syrian sky because the Syrian land and sky are not a promenade for anyone,” the state-run SANA news agency quoted Zoubi saying.

Israel is suspected of carrying out multiple airstrikes against Syrian military targets in recent weeks, in what analysts believe were attacks against shipments of advanced Iranian-made missiles to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite ally of the Assad regime.

The Israeli military and government have refused to comment on the incidents.

Turning to Syria’s northern border with Turkey, Zoubi blamed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Saturday’s bombings in the border town of Reyhanli. He charged that the Turkish government, by accepting tens of thousands of refugees who’ve fled the two-year civil war in Syria, has turned the border area with Syria into a hotbed for “international terrorist concentrations.”

Zoubi’s verbal assault on Ankara came in retaliation to Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler’s statement Sunday that a deadly weekend bombing in a Turkish town near the Syrian border was “carried out by an organization… which is in close contact to pro-regime groups in Syria and I say this very clearly, with the Syrian mukhabarat.” He said that the cars that were packed with explosives and detonated had been smuggled into Turkey from Syria.

Saturday’s bombings left 46 dead and marked the biggest incident of violence across the border since the start of Syria’s bloody civil war, raising fears of Turkey being pulled deeper into the conflict.

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