Syria rejects Israeli talks demands

Damascus has dismissed an offer by Israel to resume peace negotiations because it came with strings attached.

    Bashar al-Asad regularly calls for unconditional talks with Israel

    "We have proposed a resumption of negotiations without conditions," Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara said on Thursday. "I now notice the Israeli prime minister is setting conditions on Syria, and that is unacceptable."

    His comments came shortly after Israeli premier Ariel Sharon expressed willingness to talk to the Syrians under "certain conditions".

    These included demands that Syria stop supporting what Israel calls terrorist organisations.

    But Syrian state radio accused Israel of deliberately trying to sabotage peace efforts.

    "Israel is allowing opportunities for peace to slip by and blocking international efforts by setting defective conditions which sabotage the peace process and raise tension in the region," Damascus Radio said.

    Golan dispute

    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.

    Sharon's comments earlier in the day

     were a response to a statement by the Syrian president the previous day which made it clear

    he is willing to reopen stalled peace negotiations.

    The Golan Heights were illegally
    annexed by Israel in 1981

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

    not see any real sign that Syria wanted peace.

    Maier Cohen, an Israeli political analyst, told Aljazeera that Sharon's readiness to meet Bashar al-Asad is a "great turning point".

     

    "Silvan Shalom, Israel's foreign minister, said Syrian calls could not be ignored and there has been pressure from the military to study Syria's serious intentions for peace," he said.

     

    "Therefore, there have been internal and not external pressures on Sharon to resume negotiations."


    Israel accusations

     

    Cohen continued: "Sharon said Damascus poses a threat because it backs terrorist organisations like Hizb Allah which threatens Israel, in addition to Palestinian groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

     

    "These are not too difficult conditions if Syria actually seeks to achieve peace, but the problem is that Sharon is not ready to offer concessions on the Syrian and the Palestinian fronts.

     

    "If Syria is serious, it would have to take positive steps to convince Israel and encourage it to offer concessions with regard to the Golan Heights, such as not exporting terrorism to Iraq which is targeting US soldiers and Iraqis."

     

    Sharon is willing to talk to Syria
    but only under certain conditions

    Previously, 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, and has denied encouraging "terrorism" in Iraq.

    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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