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US Drops Reference to 'Israeli-Occupied' Golan Heights in Annual Rights Report

FILE - A couple look towards signs pointing out distances to different cities, on Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel, Jan. 21, 2019.

The U.S. State Department changed its usual description of the Golan Heights from "Israeli-occupied" to "Israeli-controlled" in an annual global human rights report released Wednesday.

Israel has been lobbying U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it effectively annexed in 1981. Israel says the area, captured from Syria in a 1967 war, is a critical buffer zone to defend its territory.

A separate section in the report, on the West Bank and Gaza Strip — areas that Israel also seized in 1967 — also did not refer to those territories as being "occupied" or under "occupation."

Any change in U.S. terminology on the West Bank and Gaza Strip is certain to raise Palestinian concern over the strength of Washington's commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state envisaged by interim peace agreements in the 1990s.

A State Department official, commenting on the language used in the report, said: "The policy on the status of the territories has not changed."

The United States uses the term "territories" when it refers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The official, Michael Kozak, head of the State Department's human rights and democracy bureau, said Washington was seeking "a negotiated settlement" there.