New peace talks between Israel and Syria topped the agenda at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Cabinet that Israel is conducting negotiations with Syria "responsibly, seriously and with the necessary caution." Mr. Olmert has said the aim of the talks is a peace agreement, but he would not comment on media reports that he is prepared to return the strategic Golan Heights to Syria.
"We have heard many speculations and interpretations," he said, adding that Israel would conduct the negotiations in secret and not through the media.
Israel announced last week that it is holding indirect peace talks with Syria, mediated by Turkey. It is the first talks between the two countries since negotiations collapsed eight years ago over the scope of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. Israel captured the territory from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967.
Prime Minister Olmert hopes peace talks will push Syria into the camp of the Arab moderates, but many Israeli Cabinet ministers are skeptical. Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai said the negotiations are a mistake.
Yishai said Israel is giving legitimacy to Syria even though it is still part of the "axis of evil," as he put it, aligned with Iran and the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Mr. Olmert is also facing opposition from the Israeli public. A TV poll showed that 70 percent of Israelis oppose withdrawing from the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement, with only 22 percent in favor.
24 May 2008 - Iran says Israel should return the disputed Golan Heights to Syria unconditionally.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Israel is in no position to set conditions on the return of the Golan Heights. Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day war.
Mottaki also called for Israel to pull out of the Palestinian territories.
Israel and Syria recently confirmed they are holding indirect peace talks mediated by Turkey, eight years after U.S.-mediated peace negotiations between Syria and Israel collapsed over the fate of the Golan Heights.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said his government is prepared to make substantial concessions for peace with Syria. He has not specified the nature of those concessions.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Wednesday that Israel has expressed a willingness to return the Golan Heights.
... Payvand News - 05/26/08 ... --