Is­rael and Syria deny se­cret talks

Re­ports of peace meet­ings ‘in­vented’


BOTH IS­RAEL and Syria of­fi­cially de­nied a news­pa­per re­port this week that the two coun­tries held se­cret talks be­tween 2004 and 2006 that had pro­duced a frame­work for a peace agree­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Ha’aretz news­pa­per, the un­of­fi­cial talks took place in Europe be­tween Dr Alon Liel, a for­mer di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Is­rael’s For­eign Min­istry, and a Syr­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman, who is also an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. Ha’aretz re­ported that th­ese meet­ings took place with the knowl­edge of both for­mer pre­mier Ariel Sharon and Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert.

Un­der the pro­pos­als, Is­rael would with­draw from the Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967. The timetable for the with­drawal re­mained open. Syria de­manded the pull­out be car­ried out over a five-year pe­riod, whereas Is­rael asked for the with­drawal to be spread out over 15 years. Other clauses in the doc­u­ment in­cluded Syria agree­ing to the fact that Is­rael would re­tain con­trol over the use of the wa­ters of the Jor­dan River and Lake Kin­neret. Syria also re­port­edly agreed to end its sup­port for Hizbol­lah and Ha­mas and dis­tance it­self from Iran.

Ha’aretz claimed that the talks ended af­ter Is­rael turned down a Syr­ian re­quest to end the meet­ings on an un­of­fi­cial level and agree to a se­cret meet­ing be­tween gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. Prime Min­is­ter Olmert told re­porters on Tues­day that he knew noth­ing of the talks “and no­body in the gov­ern­ment knew. This is a private ini­tia­tive of an in­di­vid­ual talk­ing with him­self and, from what I read, his in­ter­locu­tor was some kind of strange per­son from the United States. This is not se­ri­ous... and it would not be fit­ting for me to say more than I al­ready have.”

The Prime Min­is­ter has re­peat­edly said he saw no point in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Syria, given Da­m­as­cus’s back­ing for Ha­mas and Hizbol­lah, and US Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush’s op­po­si­tion to any talks with Syria.

Syria’s For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman said the re­port was “an in­ven­tion, a trial bal­loon”.

US Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice, mean­while, vis­ited Is­rael and the Pales­tinian Author­ity at the be­gin­ning of the week in an at­tempt to bol­ster the author­ity of PA chair­man Mah­moud Ab­bas in his bat­tle against Ha­mas and move the peace process for­ward.

Dr Rice said that she would re­turn to the re­gion in the near fu­ture to hold a tri­par­tite sum­mit with Prime Min­is­ter Olmert and Mr Ab­bas. If this proved suc­cess­ful, Ye­diot Ahronot news­pa­per re­ported, Pres­i­dent Bush planned to in­vite the two lead­ers to a White House sum­mit.

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