Israel seeks peace talks with Syria
Sunday, 30 March 2008

An Israeli minister said on Friday that the Jewish state was trying to revive peace talks with Syria and that the price of a deal was the occupied Golan Heights, reports AFP.

The comments by Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer came after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated this week that Israel was willing to make peace with its Arab neighbour and hinted at behind-the-scenes talks.

“Every effort is being made to bring Syria to the negotiating table,” Ben- Eliezer told Israel Radio. “We know that sitting at the negotiating table is not to sing Hatikva (Israel’s national anthem) but to sign an agreement, and we know very well the price of this agreement.”

Asked if the price was to relinquish control of the Golan Heights, Ben- Eliezer said: “Exactly.” Israel captured the Golan, a strategic plateau, from neighbouring Syria during the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it in 1981 in a move that has not been internationally recognised.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000 over the extent of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. Tensions have risen since then with Israel accusing Syria of supporting the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups like Hamas.

Russia has offered to host a Middle East peace conference this year to try to relaunch talks between the two countries.

Olmert on Wednesday appeared to signal reluctance about attending such a summit but said Israel was willing to make peace with Syria and that he hoped the two sides would be able to hold talks.

“That doesn’t mean that when we sit together you have to see us,” Olmert told foreign journalists in a news conference. Israel has also raised concerns over Syria’s close ties with Iran, the Jewish state’s arch foe.

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