Syria-Israel talks 'one year old'

Israeli prime minister confirms length of indirect peace talks mediated by Turkey.

    Olmert had 'assured the Turkish prime minister of his readiness to return the Golan heights' [EPA]

    He said previous Israeli leaders were prepared to make "painful concessions" for peace with Syria, adding that the negotiations with could be difficult.
    Syrian confirmation
    Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, also confirmed that indirect talks had been brokered by Turkey, saying that Damascus had received commitments for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights up to the June 4, 1967 border.


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    "We received commitments for a withdrawal from the Golan to the June 4, 1967 line," Muallem told the AFP news agency during a visit to Bahrain.


    "This is not new. It started since Rabin's pledge [for a total pullout] in 1993, and all subsequent Israeli prime ministers abided by it," he said, referring to Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister.


    The goal is "to reach a comprehensive peace agreement," the statement said.
    Peace talks between Syria and Israel broke down in 2000 over the fate of the strategic Golan Heights plateau occupied by Israel for four decades.
    Syria has consistently demanded the return of the whole of the Golan down to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Israel's main water source, in return for peace.
    But Israel baulked at the demand in the last peace talks.
    Turkish mediation
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    Turkey's foreign ministry confirmed to Al Jazeera that "indirect peace negotiations under Turkey's auspices" had been launched, and reports suggested that talks began on Tuesday in Istanbul.

    But Turkish foreign ministry sources told Al Jazeera that Syrian and Israeli delegations had not yet met together in the same place.  


    Instead, sources said that a senior Turkish delegation was currently holding separate talks with both parties, Al Jazeera's correspondent reported. 


    Turkish officials said that if a common ground was reached on Wednesday in Istanbul, the two Israeli and Syrian delegations might be brought together in a meeting to launch direct negotiations in Istanbul and draft a tripartite [Turkish-Israeli-Syrian] statement.

    'Secret' talks

    Last month, as Ankara renewed mediation efforts between Syria and Israel, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, announced that he had passed on a message from Israel to Syria expressing its readiness to swap the Golan Heights for peace.
    Turkish authorities insisted on bringing two delegations to the country in an attempt to conclude talks with a tripartite statement, Al Jazeera's correspondent said.
    But Ankara has set as a condition that it is the only mediator between Syria and Israel, threatening to withdraw its meditative efforts if any other party intervenes, the correspondent said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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