Assad reaffirms peace objective

Syrian president says new talks with Israel possible but questions leadership's sincerity.

    The Golan Heights, captured  in 1967, now supplies 15 per cent of Israel's water requirements [Gallo/Getty]

    He said Arabs need to ask the right question, namely: Is it possible for a state "that was founded on the illegitimate basis of occupation and the killing of Palestinians and Lebanese over decades - is it possible for it to be seriously pursuing peace?

    Strategic importance

    Syria and Israel have been divided over Israel's decision not to return the Golan Heights, a strategically important region that was Syrian territory before Israel captured it during the 1967 Six Day War.

    The plateau, which was annexed in 1981, holds historical importance to Syria but also has practical importance for Israel as it provides the country with at least 15 per cent of its water supply.

    Israel and Syria held almost 10 years of US-supervised talks that collapsed in 2000 when Hafez al-Assad, the late Syrian president and father of Bashar, refused an Israeli offer to pull out of the Golan but keep several hundred metres on the northeastern shore of the lake.

    In his speech on Saturday, al-Assad said: "Our past experience of indirect talks with Israel - the last ones through Turkey - have given us, once again, proof that when political action fails, it is legitimate to resort to resistance in order to regain our rights."

    The Turkish-mediated talks were suspended in December 2008 as Israel began its military assault on the Gaza Strip.

    Turkish push

    Recently Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, said Ankara was ready to continue as a mediator.

    Diplomats in Damascus say Gul has been urging al-Assad and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to resume the talks.

    Al-Assad says he is waiting for an Israeli response to Syria's definition of what constitutes the Golan boundary, which would have set the benchmark for any Israeli withdrawal.

    He says that Israel wants Syria to end its support for the Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed political group, and Hamas, the Palestinian group governing Gaza.

    Netanyahu has said he is ready to resume the talks with Syria immediately. But he has also indicated that he would not make any commitments on land first.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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