Assad: 'Efforts under way for Israel-Syria talks'

Mediators are working to relaunch peace talks between Syria and Israel, President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday.

Assad: 'Efforts under way for Israel-Syria talks'
"There are efforts being made in this direction and they are not new. The Israeli side knows full well what Syria would or would not accept," Assad was quoted as telling a meeting of the ruling Baath Party's command.

Assad did not identify the mediators but diplomats in the Syrian capital said Turkey had been relaying messages between Damascus and Israel.

Negotiations between the two countries collapsed in 2000 over the scope of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.

International attempts to persuade Syria and Israel to resume talks foundered with the two sides attaching conditions to a return to the negotiating table.

Syria wants Israel to commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and prefers the United States, Israel's chief ally, to oversee the talks. Israel wants Syria's ties with Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to be on the agenda.

Assad said Syria would remain "a country of resistance and opposition" to what Damascus regards as aggressive U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East.

"The more steadfast we are the more fierce the campaigns against us become," he said, according to the state news agency.

An Israeli minister said last month that the Jewish state was trying to revive peace talks with Syria and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted at behind-the-scenes talks.

"Syria rejects secret talks with Israel. Anything we do in this regard will be in front of Syrian public opinion. The standard for accepting negotiations is their seriousness and conformity to United Nations resolutions," Assad said.

In 2006, Swiss diplomats helped mediate in unofficial talks between the Israelis and Syrians and drew up a plan focusing on an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Syria took part in last year's Annapolis peace conference, which focused on reviving talks between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Syria reiterated at the meeting its offer to Israel of normal relations in return for the whole of the Golan, two months after Israel launched a raid on a Syrian military facility that prompted no retaliation from Syria.

Last Mod: 21 Nisan 2008, 11:40
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