Is­rael andSyria start talk­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER JERUSALEM

AMID CRIES of po­lit­i­cal spin from the op­po­si­tion, the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice an­nounced this week that Is­rael and Syria were con­duct­ing “in­di­rect” peace ne­go­ti­a­tions un­der the aus­pices of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment.

The news was re­leased si­mul­ta­ne­ously on Wed­nes­day morn­ing in Jerusalem, Da­m­as­cus and Ankara.

“Both sides have de­clared their in­ten­tion to hold the talks hon­estly and openly and to main­tain a con­tin­u­ous and se­ri­ous di­a­logue,” the press re­lease read, “in or­der to reach com­pre­hen­sive peace in ac­cor­dance with the frame­work de­cided upon at the Madrid Con­fer­ence.”

Turkey’s ef­forts have been on­go­ing for six months, and were dis­cussed in vis­its to Ankara by Mr Olmert and Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres. Turkey’s Prime Min­is­ter, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, met Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad last week and pledged to bring the sides to­gether.

Yo­ram Tur­bovich, Mr Olmert’s chief of staff, and Shalom Tur­je­man, his diplo­matic ad­vi­sor, ar­rived in Ankara on Mon­day at the same time as a Syr­ian del­e­ga­tion, though they did not meet.

The ba­sic out­line of an Is­rael-Syria deal has been agreed in the past. Is­rael will re­turn the Golan Heights cap­tured in the 1967 Six-Day War, and es­tab­lish diplo­matic re­la­tions with Da­m­as­cus. The main points of con­tention are the scale of Is­rael’s pull­back and Is­raeli de­mands that Syria stop host­ing ter­ror groups and act­ing as a con­duit for arms from Iran to Hizbol­lah.

Talks be­tween the two sides be­gan in 1991 af­ter the Madrid Con­fer­ence, but for­mer Pres­i­dent Hafez As­sad turned down an of­fer of a treaty from then­premier Ehud Barak in 2000.

Is­raeli sources re­sponded to crit­i­cism of the talks that the ne­go­ti­a­tions were be­ing con­ducted ac­cord­ing to the Madrid Con­fer­ence and noth­ing had yet been de­cided over the Golan. How­ever, Syr­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Walid Mualem said this week that Is­rael had al­ready agreed to give up the en­tire Golan.

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