Sharon responds to Syrian offer

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he would be willing to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Asad under certain conditions.

    Sharon wants to set conditions for any talks with Syria

    His comments on Wednesday were a response to a statement by the Syrian president the previous day which made it clear

    that he is willing to reopen stalled peace negotiations.

    Bilateral peace talks collapsed nearly five years ago over the fate of the strategic Golan Heights plateau, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six Day War and later illegally annexed.

    However, Sharon told a press conference in Tel Aviv that he did

    not see "any real sign" that Syria wanted peace.

    Elie Nisan, an Israeli television correspondent, told Aljazeera that

    Israel is willing to resume talks with Syria "if it stops harbouring Palestinian factions and terrorist organisations in Damascus, and stops directing terrorist organisations in Palestinian areas to carry out terrorist operations inside Israel".

    Golan dispute

     

    Nisan said: "Syria keeps harbouring terrorist organisations, particularly Hizb Allah. Syria forms a bridge for transferring weapons from Iran to Hizb Allah."



    He added: "When al-Asad gets serious, in talks and actions, to have peace with Israel, the Golan issue and related relinquishments will then be suggested."

     

    The Golan Heights were illegally
    annexed by Israel in 1981

    During a telephone conversation with Lebanese President Emile Lahud on Tuesday Bashar al-Asad said

    "negotiations [with Israel] should resume at the point where they broke

    off in January 2000".

    Also on Tuesday, Syrian state newspaper Tishrin expressed "Syria's

    real desire to bring about a just and lasting

    Middle East peace and needed only Israel's desire" to do the same

    .

    And SANA, the official news agancy, quoted an official confirming that Damascus

    wanted to continue talks where they left off five years ago,

    "taking into account what has been achieved ... including the Rabin

    offer".

    Gaza evacuation

    Syria has said Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was

    assassinated in 1995, offered a complete return of the Golan in

    exchange for normalisation in relations with Damascus

    .

    Al-Asad: Talks must start from
    where they broke off in 2000

    The government in Damascus has poured cold water on Israeli

    claims that Palestinian factions in Syria direct operations

    inside the Palestinian territories, saying that the Palestinian resistance is home-grown.

    It has also defended Hizb Allah as a legitimate counterbalance to what it calls Israel's hegemonic ambitions.

    Syria's apparent readiness to resume peace talks

    comes

    as Israel is gearing up for a full evacuation of the Gaza Strip next

    year.

    Observers doubt if Sharon will ever

    let Israel get bogged down in peace talks with Syria or contemplate

    any withdrawal from the Golan while preoccupied with the Gaza

    pullout.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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