President Donald Trump on Thursday overturned longstanding US policy regarding the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, announcing “it is time” for the US to “fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty” over the region.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability,” Trump tweeted.
The announcement hands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a significant foreign policy victory, less than three weeks before Israelis head to the polls to decide whether he should remain in power. The move comes just days before Netanyahu is set to join Trump at the White House and follows weeks during which Netanyahu has renewed his push for the US to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and formally annexed the territory in 1981. But that annexation has not been recognized by the international community, which has regarded the Golan Heights as occupied territory and Israeli settlements there as illegal under international law. The UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, recently reiterated that position.
“The Security Council is very clear that the Golan is Syrian territory, and the first aspect of 2254 is of course the territorial integrity of Syria,” he said in a news briefing in late February.
Trump enjoys sky-high approval ratings in Israel, and his embrace of Netanyahu so close to the elections, coupled with delivering a long-sought recognition, could impact the outcome of the Israeli election.
Netanyahu quickly took to Twitter to thank Trump, tweeting: “At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights”.
In a short phone call between the two leaders, Netanyahu told Trump, “You made history,” according to a readout of the call provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.
It was not clear if the White House would release additional information or specifics about the move to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel beyond Trump’s tweet.
Former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who served under President Barack Obama, said the move “raises a lot of concern” and said it is difficult to not see this as an attempt to buttress Netanyahu’s chances of remaining prime minister.
“It’s hard not to put two and two together,” Panetta said on CNN. “The President has made clear his support for Netanyahu.”
Decision has been building
The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina visited the Israeli-occupied territory earlier this month with the Prime Minister, an early sign that Trump was gearing up to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territory.
But the final decision came this week as Trump held several meetings with his senior staff, this official said.
National security adviser John Bolton, senior adviser Jared Kushner and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt were consulted and supported the move, the official said.
“There’s no obvious constituency not to do this,” the official said, defending the move.
The official declined to address whether there had been any consideration of the impact this could have on the Israeli elections.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday, hailed the move as “historic” and “bold.”
“Tonight, President Trump made the decision to recognize that that hard-fought real estate, that important place, is proper to be a sovereign part of the state of Israel. President Trump made a bold decision to recognize that, an important decision for the people of Israel. It will truly be historic, and the people of Israel should know that the battles they fought, the lives that they lost on that very ground, were worthy and meaningful and important for all time,” Pompeo said.
The decision is the latest controversial unilateral move that Trump has taken vis-a-vis Israel, bucking longstanding US policy — and it is already facing backlash in the region.
The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, cataloging Trump’s recent actions toward Israel, asked on Twitter, “What shall tomorrow bring?”
“Certain destabilisation and bloodshed in our region,” he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu affirmed his country’s support for Syria’s “territorial integrity.”
“The territorial integrity of states is the most fundamental principle of international law,” he wrote on Twitter. “Attempts by the #US to legitimize #Israel’s actions against international law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region.”
A European diplomat based in the region told CNN that Trump’s announcement Thursday is a further reflection of the administration’s readiness to meet Israel’s demands.
It is “further evidence that the Trump administration is willing to ignore international law in order to satisfy Israeli demands, including Security Council resolutions supported by past administrations,” the diplomat told.
In December 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and he moved the US Embassy to the holy city last year.
The US had previously maintained an embassy in Tel Aviv and has for years maintained that Jerusalem’s status would be decided only as part of a broader Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
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