US President Donald Trump yesterday declared that the Golan Heights belongs to Israel, a move that risks plunging the volatile region in a new crisis.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking over his shoulder at the White House, Trump signed a proclamation officially granting US recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory - a dramatic shift from decades of US policy.
The move immediately triggered global anger and a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic land.
Netanyahu was visiting Washington for the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel US lobby, but cut his visit short after a rocket fired yesterday from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip hit a house north of Tel Aviv, lightly wounding seven Israelis in an unusually long-range attack.
He arrived in Washington on Sunday, originally for a four-day trip.
Just as Netanyahu entered the White House, Israeli warplanes struck targets in Gaza linked to Hamas -- which denied carrying out the attack -- with the prime minister vowing to respond "forcefully to this wanton aggression."
Trump -- who in 2017 took the even more momentous step of recognising disputed Jerusalem as Israel's capital -- called the Golan declaration "a long time in the making."
He handed the pen that he used for his signature to Netanyahu, and said: "Give this to the people of Israel."
Netanyahu, who faces a tough May 9 election, spared no praise for Trump, likening him to President Harry S Truman, who recognised Israel, and even to Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who freed the Jews of Babylon.
"Your decision to recognize Israel's sovereignty on the Golan Heights is so historic," Netanyahu told Trump.
The Syrian government said Washington's recognition was a blatant attack on its sovereignty. "Trump does not have the right and the legal authority to legitimise the occupation," a foreign ministry source said, according to state news agency SANA said.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "clear that the status of Golan has not changed," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "The UN's policy on Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that policy has not changed," Dujarric said.
A UN Security Council resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-member body in 1981 declared that Israel's "decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect." It also demanded Israel rescind its decision.
Nato ally Turkey termed the US recognition unacceptable and said it would take action against it, including at the United Nations. The Arab League also condemned the move.
The negative reactions reprised last week's response to Trump's tweet announcing the move. The announcement triggered direct or implied criticism from European as well as Middle Eastern countries and organizations, including Britain, Germany, France, the European Union, Turkey, Egypt, the Arab League and Russia.
Russia yesterday warned that Trump's proclamation would set off a "new wave" of tensions in the Middle East.
Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally. The territory had long been seen as a comparatively easy problem to resolve, as both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Golan's 20,000 settlers are largely secular in a region dominated by religious feuds.
But changing the strategic dynamics, Syria has been embroiled for years in a devastating civil war in which Iran has made inroads -- to the staunch opposition of Israel, which has vowed to eradicate the clerical regime's presence.
Trump's Golan declaration amounts to a gift to Netanyahu ahead of April 9 elections in Israel in which the wily right-winger is facing an unexpectedly stiff challenge from centrist Benny Gantz, who also came to Washington for AIPAC.
In Gaza, waves of Israeli strikes on Hamas targets rocked the narrow, densely populated enclave, lighting the night sky with balls of fire rising into the sky.
A security source in Gaza said there had been a range of strikes in various locations across the enclave.
One strike targeted the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas radio reported. Haniyeh was unlikely to have been in the office, as Hamas routinely evacuates its buildings when expecting Israeli attacks.
Another destroyed a building in Gaza City that Israel alleged was a secret headquarters for Hamas security and intelligence. Hamas's interior security office in Gaza City was also hit.
So far there have been no reports of any casualties in Gaza.
Israel said it also sending two additional brigades to reinforce the Gaza area and carrying out a limited call up of reservists.
Israel has waged three wars on Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets from Gaza are a frequent occurrence, but Israel's swift mobilisation of extra troops to the border area was unusual.