Israel stands against resuming peace talks with Syria

Israeli politicians released quite contradictory statements regarding Syria on Monday. Some officials urged to resume peace talks with Syria, whereas others claimed the time was not right for negotiations.

The mixed messages came at a time of growing concern that Syria is strengthening its alliance with Iran following the Israel-Hezbollah war. With some officials signaling a readiness to return to negotiations - and handing back the Golan Heights - Israel appeared to be telling Syria it has something to lose by linking its fate to that of Iran.

The three main U.S. allies in the Arab world - Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - are also pushing for a revival of negotiations because they're worried the Lebanon war has given a boost to Iran. A top Arab League official has said the Arab countries are putting together a peace plan to present to the U.N. Security Council next month.

It's not clear whether the United States would support a wider peace effort following the Lebanon war.

Israel has long accused Syria, along with Iran, of arming and supporting Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas who fired nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel in the 34-day war that ended last week. However, during the war, Israel went to great lengths to keep Syria out of the conflict, apparently to avoid opening another front or closing peace options.

Still, after the war, Syrian President Bashar Assad signaled he is moving closer to Iran. He delivered a hardline speech in praise of Hezbollah and warned that future Arab generations might succeed with force where peace talks have failed so far - a reference to the Golan Heights, the plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

Israeli leaders appear divided over whether Syria could somehow be lured into the moderate Arab camp with the promise of peace talks and getting back the Golan. Last week, Defense Minister Amir Peretz became the first senior Israeli official to propose renewing contacts with Syria.

On Monday, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter also said Israel should resume the negotiations that broke down in 2000. Asked by Israel Army Radio whether Israel should surrender the territory in exchange for a peace deal, Dichter referred to treaties with Egypt and Jordan in which Israel handed over all war-won land, the AP reported.

"What we did with Egypt and Jordan is also legitimate in this case," Dichter said. Asked whether that meant Israel should withdraw to its international border with Syria, he said: "Yes."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet in a closed-door meeting Sunday that Israel is in no hurry to resume peace talk, according to participants.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Monday that Israel had other things on its mind right now. "I think that at the moment, we can't take on too much," Peres told Israel Radio. "We have the burden of Lebanon and we have the negotiations with the Palestinians. I don't think a country like ours can deal with so many issues at a time."

Peres said he believes its unlikely Assad is even contemplating a return to negotiations. "The Syrians, if they are serious (about peace talks), should come and say "we are interested in holding negotiations," Peres said. "I don't see Assad doing this."

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