Golan Druze protest Trump pledge to Israel

Golan Heights (AFP) –


Druze on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Saturday took to the streets in protest at US President Donald Trump's pledge to recognise the Jewish state's sovereignty there.

Trump broke with decades of US Middle East policy, and longstanding international consensus, when he posted a Tweet on Thursday that said it was time to accept Israel's widely-contested claim to the strategic plateau.

Tens of thousands of Syrians fled or were expelled when Israel seized part of the Golan during the 1967 Six-Day War, subsequently annexing it in 1981.

Some remained, however, and today around 23,000 Druze -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam who also live in Lebanon -- reside in the Israeli-controlled sector, alongside 25,000 Israeli settlers.

The vast majority of these Druze see themselves as Syrians, refusing to take Israeli nationality.

On Saturday Druze men, women and children rallied in the town of Majdal Shams, adjacent to the armistice line between the Golan's Israeli and Syrian-controlled sectors.

They waved Druze and Syrian flags and carried pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Others carried banners in Arabic reading, "The Golan is Syrian" and "We are the ones who decide Golan's identity".

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 own," he said in Arabic.

Trump's move was hinted at a week ago when the US State Department changed its description of the area from "occupied" to "Israeli-controlled".

It is yet to be made operative by an act of Congress or an executive order.