CONSERVATIVE leader Ruth Davidson has been heavily criticised by a Syrian human rights group after a high-powered group of ten Scottish Tories visited an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied Golan Heights.

Al-Marsad, the only human rights organisation operating there, is at loggerheads with Davidson after raising concern about the group's visit to a winery in Katzrin.

They say the delegation did not contact them or other representatives of the Syrian community in the "occupied Syrian Golan" to get a "balanced view". And they say they have repeatedly failed to get an explanation for the visit to the territory from Davidson or any condemnation of the illegal settlement.

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The group, which is described as an independent, not-for-profit organisation, said it was "highly concerned" it sends the message that the Scottish Conservative party endorses the illegal activities of such settlements.

The strategic Golan Heights were captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981. The same year the United Nations issued a resolution saying that Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights was illegal. And every year since the UN General Assembly has reaffirmed the resolution on the illegality of the Israeli occupation and annexation.

The row centres on the ten Tories, including nine MSPs, who were on a Conservative Friends of Israel-funded trip to Israel, the West Bank and Golan Heights in August. It was described by CFI as a trip to "promote bilateral trade between the two countries and bolster the growing pro-Israel advocacy movement in Scotland".

It included the director of the Scottish Conservatives, Mark McInnes, Scottish Conservative chief whip, John Lamont along with shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross, shadow economy, jobs and fair work cabinet secretary Dean Lockhart, shadow environment secretary Maurice Golden, tourism and small businesses spokeswoman Rachel Hamilton, community safety spokesman Oliver Mundell, digital economy spokesman Jamie Greene, further education, higher education and science spokesman Ross Thompson and welfare, reform and equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells.

During the trip Lamont said that anti-Israel sentiment was being spread where people were telling the Scottish public "that Israelis are bad and Palestinians are good and then sign up to some boycott".

He added: "That’s not based on any properly informed position, because nobody’s given them the alternative views. So part of this exercise [taking lawmakers to Israel] is making sure that more and more people are getting at least a balanced position and a positive view of Israel.”

Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw followed up the trip earlier this month with controversial plans to establish a cross-party group, called ‘Building Bridges with Israel’. It has been set up in a bid to oppose anti-Semitism and offer an 'alternative viewpoint' to what it says is a pro-Palestinian stance that has been dominant since the Scottish Parliament's inception in 1999.

The party also lodged a motion in Parliament calling for more direct flights between Scotland and Israel.

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, strongly opposed the group's message with a spokesman saying: "Israel doesn't build any bridges, it demolishes homes, farms and is demolishing Palestine."

Al-Marsad, which has previously voiced concern over what it deems Israel's "ethnic cleansing" of the Syrian Arab population in the Golan, say they have written two letters to Davidson asking in particular about the visit to "occupied Syrian Golan" but without response.

Al-Marsad director Dr Nizar Ayoub said afterwards: "Given this lack of clarification, I am highly concerned that the Scottish Conservative party appears to condone the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements – illegal under international law – in the occupied Syrian Golan."

He told Davidson in his letters: "I am highly concerned that the delegation has visited a winery in an illegal Israeli settlement without providing any explanation of the purpose of the visit. In effect, this sends a message that the Scottish Conservative party endorses the illegal activities of this settlement – built on land illegally appropriated from its original Syrian owners.

"Even more worrying is the fact that the Scottish Conservative party has refused to answer questions about whether the delegation raised the broader issue of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan during its visit."

A Scottish Conservatives spokesman insisted their position is the same as the UK government position which is "not to support illegal settlements" adding that on the visit Lamont had made clear their concern was "for the human rights of everyone in the region".