Israel open to meeting with Syrians-officials

Israel would be open to participating in a senior-level meeting with the Syrians brokered by Turkey to test the waters for renewed peace negotiations, Israeli officials said on Sunday.

Israel open to meeting with Syrians-officials
Such a preliminary meeting between Israeli and Syrian representatives would be the next step in mediation efforts by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who held talks over the weekend with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, the officials said.

That meeting could lay the groundwork for more formal talks in the future, Israeli officials said, though Erdogan could face an uphill task bringing the two sides to formal negotiations before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office next January.

The Bush administration has been cool to renewing Israeli-Syrian negotiations, which collapsed in 2000 without resolving the fate of the Golan Heights, Israeli officials said.

"If such an invitation comes from Turkey, I can't see any reason why Israel would not attend," said a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"They would accept," another Israeli official said of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office.

Syria says it received word from Turkey that Israel would be willing to give back the Golan in return for peace with the Arab state. Israel captured the plateau in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally.

Syrian officials said on Saturday that Damascus would cooperate with Turkey in its mediation efforts but that the Jewish state must also make an effort towards a deal.

Olmert has neither confirmed nor denied that such an offer was conveyed to Damascus, and a spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on whether the prime minister would agree to send a representative to a senior-level meeting with the Syrians.

"Israel desires peace with Syria," Regev said. "As you know, messages have been sent. The Syrians are aware of Israel's expectations as to the talks and we are aware of the Syrian expectations as to the process."

Erdogan has said that mediation efforts would start at a low level and move up the chain if successful. Turkey, which is a NATO member, has close ties with Israel.

But without full U.S. backing, diplomats doubt talks will go anywhere. Last week, Washington released intelligence alleging Syria had built a nuclear reactor with North Korean help before an Israeli air strike destroyed the facility last September.

In remarks published in a Qatari newspaper on Sunday, Assad said the site was not part of a nuclear weapons programme, but was a military facility under construction.

Last Mod: 28 Nisan 2008, 12:19
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