State Dept. report says disputed Golan Heights 'controlled' by Israel

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In the latest annual global human rights report, the United States has stopped using the term "occupied" when talking about areas of Palestine controlled by Israel, including the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza.

Hours before the USA report was released, Israel accused a suspected Lebanese Hezbollah operative who was previously held in Iraq over the killing of five US military personnel of now setting up a guerrilla network on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan for cross-border attacks.

A state department official, Michael Kozak, sought to downplay the significance of the report's phrasing, saying the designation of territories as occupied is a "legal status issue", not a human rights matter.

A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has criticised a USA move to no longer refer to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights as occupied territories in its annual human rights report. "Israel occupied this territory by fighting for its survival".

A separate section in the State Department report, on the West Bank and Gaza, did not include the terms "occupied" or under "occupation" in referring to the Palestinian territories.

"There was already strong American support, under both former US President Barack Obama and under the Trump administration for Israel's freedom of action to address threats in Syria, including those by Hezbollah", he said, adding that "the fact that the current mastermind of the efforts has significant American blood on his hands will only deepen this support". What we've uncovered today is just the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, Washington recently announced it will release President Donald Trump's Israeli-Palestinian "deal of the century" peace plan some time after Israel's April 9 election.

The Golan - like the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories also taken by Israel in the June 1967 conflict - is regarded internationally as occupied under a U.N. Security Council resolution passed later that year.

The release of the images comes the same day as the Israeli army revealed that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has recruited a number of villagers residing in the Syrian Golan Heights in recent months to make preparations and carry out intelligence gathering for terrorist operations on the border with Israel.

Worldwide law does not recognise Israel's hold on those territories and considers Israel's expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal.

The Republican companion bills have seven co-sponsors in the Senate and 23 co-sponsors in the House.

"We are not going to allow Hezbollah to establish a terror infrastructure on the Golan capable of striking Israeli civilians", said Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, Israeli military spokesman.

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