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Olmert Says He Wants to Renew Peace Talks with Syria

12/26/06 By Robert Berger, VOA, Jerusalem

Israel says it would like to revive negotiations with neighboring Syria. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Israel is setting down some tough pre-conditions.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he would like to renew peace talks with Syria, but first there must be a change of heart in Damascus.

Mr. Olmert said the two countries could arrive at dialogue if Syria stops its support for Islamic terror groups, including Hamas that heads the Palestinian Authority and Hezbollah in Lebanon. He also demanded that Syria sever what he called "its appalling connection with Iran."

Tension between Israel and Syria increased in July when Israel launched a 34-day assault on Lebanon, after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on the northern border. Israel accused Syria of supplying weapons to Hezbollah. Since then, Syrian President Bashar Assad has offered several times to renew peace talks with Israel.

Syria has fallen from grace with Washington and Europe because of its support for Hezbollah and the insurgency in Iraq.

Israeli analyst Eyal Zisser says Mr. Assad is more interested in boosting his international standing than in making peace with Israel. "He gains some points in this game with Israel. I mean, it's not he who refused to have peace or to have negotiations, it's Olmert. Syria is under tremendous pressure and it's very good for him to come to mainly the Europeans, but also some Americans, and tell them, 'Well listen, I'm ready to make peace. It's Israel who is not interested (in) that,'" he said.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria broke down in 2000 because Israel was reluctant to relinquish the strategic Golan Heights captured during the Six Day War in 1967. And today, Israel is still in no hurry to hand over the Golan to a regime it does not trust.

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