Olmert 'wants Lebanon talks'

Israeli prime minister says negotiations with Beirut should follow talks with Syria.

    Israel fought a 34-day war with fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement [File: AFP]

    However, a source, who spoke to the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said that the prime minister "wasn't asking for talks with Lebanon" but was voicing his hope that conditions would emerge to enable negotiations.

    Hezbollah conflict

    Israel fought a 34-day war with fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah group in 2006.

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    After that conflict, Israeli leaders made peace overtures toward Lebanon's Western-backed government but there was no diplomatic breakthrough.

    Under a deal mediated last month, Hezbollah agreed to join a Lebanese national unity government in which it is guaranteed effective veto power.

    Hezbollah is likely to oppose any engagement with Israel.

    Officials in Beirut are also unlikely to open negotiations given Olmert's weakened position.

    Resignation calls 

    The Israeli prime minister is facing calls for his resignation after a US businessman testified that he gave Olmert $150,000 in cash and loans.

    On Tuesday, Israel's Likud party said it would present a bill calling for the dissolution of parliament, paving the way for snap elections. 

    "Israel cannot afford to continue being hostage to political factors in the face of burning questions that confront it," Benjamin Netanyahu,  Likud leader and former prime minister, said.  

    "Israelis must have the possibility of choosing a new government."

    Olmert has denied any wrongdoing but has acknowledged receiving campaign donations.

    But a recent opinion poll showed that 70 per cent of Israelis believed Olmert should step down, and 62 per cent favoured early elections.

    Syria talks

    Israel has said that any peace deal with Syria depends on Damascus distancing itself from Iran as well as severing ties with Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas group.

    "I think it is too early to resume direct talks. There are conditions"


    Fayssal al-Mekdad, 
    Syria's deputy foreign minister

    Syria wants the full return of the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war.

    A senior Syrian official told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that there would be no direct negotiaions between the two sides until their conditions had been met.

    "I think it is too early to resume direct talks. There are conditions," Fayssal al-Mekdad, the deputy foreign minister, said.
       
    "I hope Israel responds to the requirements of peace, which are the end of the occupation of Palestine and the establishment of a Palestinian state, restoration of the Syrian Golan and pull out of remaining occupied Lebanese territory."

    Mark Regen, an Israeli spokesman, said: "When talks move to direct talks, that would be a sign of significant progress."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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