Syria denies secret Israel peace talks

Syria has denied it is in secret peace talks with Israel after a British newspaper reported Damascus was engaged in clandestine discussions on reopening contacts with the Jewish state.

    Syrian President al-Assad is under increasing pressure

    "Syria has nothing to hide. She is refusing any kind of secret talks and is always acting in the open," the state news agency SANA quoted an official source as saying on Friday.
    The British Guardian newspaper had reported on Thursday that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan had urged Syria to relaunch talks with Israel - broken off in 2000 - in a bid for Damascus to avoid sanctions over the murder of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafiq al-Hariri.
    Arab leaders are seeking to revive a 2002 Middle East peace plan by Saudi King Abdullah with discussions beginning at the sidelines of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca which opened on Wednesday. 

    The paper said an Arab official repeated King Abdullah's offer of [all] Arab countries recognition of Israel in exchange for the return of occupied Arab land, namely the West Bank in Palestine, the Syrian Golan Heights and the disputed Shebaa farms in Lebanon.

    Syrian interest?

    "Syria has nothing to hide. She is refusing any kind of secret talks and is always acting in the open"

    Syrian news agency SANA quoting an unnamed official

    Diplomats at the summit also said that Syria was trying to revive interest in talking to Israel with a view to deflecting US and European pressure over allegations that senior Syrian officials were involved in the assasination of al-Hariri.

    "Syria would go along with almost anything at this point," a senior Arab diplomat was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying.

    "They are looking for any leeway. They do not want to be penalised like Libya or Iraq. They are definitely looking for a way out of this mess."

    Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor in charge of the al-Harriri inquiry, is due to present his final report to the UN security council on 15 December, a move that could trigger punitive action threatening Bashar al-Assad's rule in Syria.
    Accusing Israel

    Saudi King Abdullah is looking to
    revive his 2002 Israel peace plan

    Alleging that the information had been spread by Israel, SANA's source said the reports were aimed at "deceiving public opinion by making it believe that Syria is backing down in the face of the strong pressure it is facing."
    But it added that Syria is "working for a comprehensive peace in the region, a true peace that must start with the end of the occupation in line with the Arab initiative for peace and resolutions of international law." 
    Al-Hariri was killed in a 14 February bomb blast that also killed 20 others on the Beirut seafront. 



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