Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd-R) and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) applaud after unveiling the sign for the new settlement of “Trump Heights. named after the US president, during an official ceremony in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday inaugurated a new settlement in the Golan Heights, named after the country’s “great friend” US President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu unveiled a “Trump Heights” sign, featuring an Israeli and a US flag, to mark the site of the new settlement.

The ceremony comes after the US president in late March recognized Israeli sovereignty over the part of the strategic plateau it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel later annexed the area in a move never recognized by the international community.

“The Golan is Israeli and will remain so always,” Netanyahu declared.

Trump is “a very great friend of Israel who has taken a decision that has never before been taken,” he added.

Trump expressed his gratitude to Netanyahu in a tweet.

Surrounding a large table, Israel’s cabinet met under a tent in the north of the Golan to name the planned settlement, in the presence of US ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Outside the tent, a sign bearing the name of the settlement was unveiled shortly after an announcement to local officials.

The naming “is an extraordinary gesture,” Friedman said.

Construction of the settlement is planned in an area currently occupied by four settler families.

It is to be built on the site of a former kibbutz, first established in 1984.

The inauguration of the new settlement will “drive development of the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu added, promising the government would invest in building homes and roads, as well as education and tourism facilities.

Vladimir Pelopzerkovski, a resident of one of the mobile homes, said he spoke to the Israeli premier and told him he hoped such promises would be kept.

But “I am not convinced that these promises will bring true change”, the 75-year-old told AFP.

Some 23,000 Druze – an Arab Muslim minority also present in Syria and Lebanon – live in the occupied and annexed part of the Golan, while 25,000 Israeli settlers have arrived there since 1967.

Netanyahu also said Trump had proven “once again his commitment to the security and the future of Israel,” recalling that the US president transferred the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018.

Trump’s embassy decision broke with decades of international consensus not to recognize the city as the capital of Israel, which took over mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War and later annexed it.

Israel considers the entire city its capital, but the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

– reporting by AFP

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