Israel 'ready for peace' with Syria

Syrian cabinet minister says Olmert offering full withdrawal from Golan Heights.

    Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the
    1967 Middle East War and later annexed it [AFP]

    Israel seized the Heights - a strategically important plateau - from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War, and annexed it in 1981.
     
    Faltering talks
     
    Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said that it had been common knowledge that third-party contacts had been under way for the last few months.
     
    "The fact that Turkey is making [the contacts] public is perhaps representative of Syrian wishes. Syria has made increasingly clear in recent days that it wants any such negotiations to be conducted in public."
     
    Peace negotiations between Syria and Israel collapsed in 2000 over disagreement of the extent Israel would pull out of the Golan Heights.
     
    International attempts to persuade the two countries to resume talks faltered after the two sides attached conditions to a return to the negotiating table.
     
    Syria has demanded Israel commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
     
    Israel says it wants to keep a small strip of land along the Sea of Galilee to maintain control of the water supplies. It also wants Syria to end support for Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.
     
    David Baker, an Israeli spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the government was looking forward to making peace with Syria, adding that there has been no change in stance by Olmert.
     
    Indirect contact
     
    Al-Assad had acknowledged last Sunday that talks through a third party were under way, telling a closed meeting of the ruling Baath party that an Israeli commitment to withdraw fully from the Golan had to be a basis for talks.
     

    "The standard for accepting negotiations [with Israel] is their seriousness and conformity to United Nations resolutions"

    Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president

    He also said that Syria would not hold secret talks with Israel.
     
    "Anything we do in this regard will be in front of Syrian public opinion," he said.
     
    "The standard for accepting negotiations is their seriousness and conformity to United Nations resolutions."
     
    The indirect contact comes despite recent tensions between the two countries, in part stemming from an Israeli air raid last September on a Syrian military facility.
     
    Some reports have claimed a Syrian nuclear installation was struck, although Damascus denies this.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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