14 members reject US declaration on Golan Heights, cite international law; US calls on Russia to use its influence in Syria; Russia: Israel’s unilateral moves create obstacles to normalizing the relations between Israel and the Arab States.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) convened on Wednesday to discuss the United States’ recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights following the request for an emergency session from Syria. It was rejected by all 14 member states, China, France, Russia, the UK, as well as the rotating seats of Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Germany, Indonesia, Kuwait, Peru, Poland and South Africa. The body called for adherence to the 1974 Disengagement Agreement and United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (peacekeeping forces in Syria, UNDOF).

US envoy to the UN, Rodney Hunter, defended the United States’ historic declaration and Israel’s right to defend itself against threats from Syria and Iran. He explained to the council that the Trump Administration’s actions do not violate the 1974 Disengagement Agreement or “undermine” UNDOF, which “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.”

The US envoy called on Russia to use its influence in Syria to compel the Syrian army to disengage its forces from the area of separation between Israel and Syria, requesting on Wednesday, “The United States and this Council cannot accept Syria’s efforts to establish its presence in the area of separation as a new norm. Therefore, the United States calls on the Russian Federation to use its influence with the Assad regime to compel the Syrian forces to uphold their commitment to the disengagement of forces agreement and immediately withdraw from the area of separation”.

Russia’s envoy to the council, Vladimir Safronkov, denounced Trump’s recognition and claimed Israel’s unilateral moves in the region undermine its normalization with Arab states. He stated to the council, “We confirm that such steps not only violate the norms of international law, furthermore they violate Security Council resolutions… The UN force historically has been an effective mechanism to decrease tension… This mechanism in the future should be able to create potential for building trust between the parties. It is unacceptable seeing this positive trend and unilateral steps to undermine that. This not only exacerbates the situation in Syria and complicates the establishment of political process, but it also creates serious obstacles to normalizing the relations between Israel and the Arab States”.

During a US State Department briefing in Washington, journalists asked questions surrounding the UNSC meeting. Spokesman Robert Palladino answered them, clarifying the reasons for President Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights and the “security importance to the State of Israel and… stability of the Middle East.” He reiterated, “to allow the Golan Heights to be controlled by the likes of Syrian and Iranian regimes would be to turn a blind eye to threats emanating from a Syrian regime that engages in atrocities, and from Iran and terrorist actors, including Hezbollah, that would seek to use the Golan Heights as a launching ground for attacks against Israel.” He added, “a lack of Israel’s ability to defend that area would be to undermine Israeli security and enhancing the Golan Heights is to enhance Israel’s security and which strengthens, frankly, our ability to partner with Israel to fight the common threats that we face.”

When asked if there are current, direct threats from Iran and Syria on Israel, he stated, “We’re not saying the threat is over in any way. The threat, of course, continues, and Israel’s need and our need to help support continues, of course. That affects all the stabilization.”

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